A majority of the Town Council appears prepared to spend $17-$20,000 or more to hire a beach-nourishment financial planning consultant, even though it has not voted to proceed with a nourishment plan, and it has made no effort to do its own far-less-costly financial research.
The chief item of business on the agenda for tomorrow’s Town Council meeting is the consideration of an FY 2019-20 budget amendment that would enable the Town to pay beach-nourishment financial planners, DEC Associates, Inc., “half of the total amount due [them] for financial planning . . . for beach nourishment.”
Doug and Andrew Carter, the father-son team that owns the Charlotte-based DEC Associates, told the Town Council seven months ago, at its Feb. 26 planning session, that they would charge $35-$40,000 to develop a financial plan, set up a “beach fund,” and decide what monies would go into the beach fund (i.e., do the “planning”); and then another $30,000 to work on finding the financing.
If DEC Associates’ costs have not increased, “half of the total amount due for financial planning” is either $17,500 to $20,000, or about $35,000, which would be half of what the company would charge if it were to manage funding for a fill project.
We will find out tomorrow what the agenda item wording means. The Town Council meeting will convene at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
This appropriation is an idea that Councilman Jim Conners floated at the Town Council’s Sept. 17 planning session, when the Town’s elected officials considered a coastal-engineering consultant’s latest report on beach nourishment along Southern Shores’ 3.7-mile-long shoreline. Mr. Conners appeared then to have majority support for his budgetary idea. (See The Beacon’s report on the planning session, 2/28/19.)
The Beacon differs with them all. We believe the proposed appropriation is a terrible waste of money that exposes how lax the Council and Town staff have been about doing obvious homework–during at least the past seven months–that would have saved the Town both time and money. The Beacon also believes it is not too late for the Town to do its own homework at a more economical cost. The Town has an attorney and an interim town manager: Use them.
WHERE WAS THE PLANNING?
APTIM Program Manager Kenneth Willson presented his coastal-engineering firm’s December 2017 analysis of the Southern Shores shoreline at the Town Council’s Feb. 26 planning session.
Mr. Willson actually filed this report, titled the “2018 Vulnerability Assessment and Beach Management Plan,” with the Town last December. Thus, the assessment and its conclusions were available for scrutiny two months before they were formally presented.
Correspondence between Mr. Willson and former Town Manager Peter Rascoe indicates that Mr. Rascoe read an early draft of the assessment that was submitted last November. Adding in that time, the Town will have nearly a year’s notice about APTIM’s data and recommendations before it finally makes a decision on financing a nourishment project.
The Beacon attended the Feb. 26 planning session, and we spoke at length afterward with the Carters, who specialize in shoreline-project funding.
Also in attendance at the planning session were Mayor Tom Bennett, Councilmen Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Conners; Town Manager Rascoe, then-Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett, and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain; and, most significantly, Town Attorney Robert B. Hobbs, Jr., who also represents Duck, which renourished its beaches in 2017.
Councilman Christopher Nason was out of town.
Fortunately, for all, the meeting was videotaped. The Beacon trusts that Mr. Nason has viewed it and that all other elected officials have reviewed it. If they have not, they have let their constituents down.
Mr. Willson, who is a geologist with certification in coastal engineering, outlined in the 2018 assessment report three beach-management plan “options” for Southern Shores, then ranging in cost from about $9 to $13 million.
About two-three weeks ago, he filed a new report, based on updated May 2019 beach-survey data. APTIM and Mr. Willson are now recommending that the Town choose between two beach-nourishment plan options that range in cost between $14-$16 million, and that the Mayor said Sept. 17 would likely cost more. (See The Beacon, 9/17/19 and 9/19/19.)
Two Field Research Facility oceanographers who live in Southern Shores—Dr. Katherine Brody and Dr. Nicholas Cohn—questioned APTIM’s conclusions at the Town Council’s September planning session, saying they are “based on limited data” and “on short-term trends that are not particularly helpful.” The scientists said APTIM’s recommendations are based on statistics and engineering, not science. (See The Beacon, 9/19/19.)
There is no follow-up discussion to the oceanographers’ expert opinions planned for tomorrow’s meeting—at least, not as indicated on the agenda.
After Mr. Willson spoke in February, the Carters explained the various financing methods available for a fill project, some of which include 1) general obligation bonds, which would require a voter referendum; 2) purchase by installments, which, Andrew Carter said, would be “more like a mortgage,” and would be governed by N.C. General Statutes (NCGS) 160A-20; and 3) and 4) special-assessment bonds, which Mr. Carter described as “very complicated,” and special obligation bonds, both of which are subject to State law.
WHAT SAY THE TOWN ATTORNEY(S)?
The Town has under contract the law firm of Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, where both Mr. Hobbs and his colleague, Benjamin M. Gallop, a very capable municipal attorney, work. Surely, Mr. Gallop, who attends all of the Town Council’s meetings, or Mr. Hobbs can explain to the Council how shoreline financing works—without billing the Town for $20,000.
The Beacon further believes that the town attorneys, town managers, and/or other responsible staff of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head—all of which have financed beach-nourishment projects—would be happy to speak with Mr. Gallop/Mr. Hobbs, if they need supplementary information, or Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett about the financing method(s) their towns used.
It was The Beacon’s impression on Feb. 26 that the Carters have worked with some, if not all, of the Dare County beach towns. In any case, the Town can learn and benefit from our neighboring beach towns’ experiences. We need not start out on page one of the beach nourishment financing playbook. The plays have already been designed.
It would seem to be fairly easy for Mr. Gallop and Mr. Haskett, perhaps with assistance from Mrs. Swain, to pool their resources and to compile a short report that would detail for the Town Council the financial options and their implications for the Town and its taxpayers. They could assume the beach-management plan would cost $16 million, of which the Town would pay 50 percent and Dare County would pay 50 percent.
The Beacon finds it very discouraging that, since February, the Town Council has not called publicly upon the Town Attorney(s), the Town Manager, or any other knowledgeable people at its disposal to help it to make an intelligent and informed decision about beach nourishment and its financing. The Beacon could probably do a quick educated study just by conducting research on the Internet!
The Town has not done its due diligence, but that’s no excuse for either dipping yet again into the undesignated fund balance—as the majority did to pay for the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk—or diverting revenue from elsewhere to pay for an expense that it need not incur.
You may access tomorrow’s Council meeting agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2019-10-01.pdf.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/30/19