The $47,599 budget amendment that will be before the Town Council for approval at its meeting Tuesday is undeniably for funds to support a 2022 beach-nourishment project of the entire Southern Shores coastline that the Council has not yet approved.
The Town Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The public has the option of participating by Zoom videoconferencing or listening by telephone. The Town has made no announcement about in-person attendance.
For the agenda and meeting packet, see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-05-05.pdf
What is the matter with our Mayor, members of our Town Council, and our Interim Town Manager that this budget amendment, and the underlying proposal from Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina (“CPE-NC”) that prompts it, are being treated so furtively?
The Beacon knows some of the Town Council members to be very conscientious, and we seriously doubt Interim Manager Wes Haskett is trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, so we honestly do not get it. We would hate to believe that Town Council members have stumbled because they are reluctant to speak their minds and be decisive.
Having read the services agreement submitted by CPE-NC—including the laboriously written exhibits A, B, and C that detail the specific services—we can say with certainty that CPE-NC proposes to undertake foundational beach profile/survey and permitting work for an as-yet-unapproved new coastline nourishment project in 2022.
The proposal covers required design and permitting work for this as-yet-unapproved new 2022 beach nourishment project, as well as what it refers to as a “potential Hurricane Dorian damage repair project.”
This is the first The Beacon has heard of the need to hire a coastal-engineering consultant to design a damage repair project for a hurricane that only minimally damaged the Southern Shores coastline. Most of the damage from Dorian in our town last September, as you will recall, was in the maritime forest with the felling of numerous trees.
CPE-NC is seeking a five-month contract for activities whose performance would start immediately. CPE-NC would be providing services for Southern Shores, as well as for Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills.
MULTI-TOWN COORDINATION OF BEACH PROJECTS
At its March 4 regular meeting, the Town Council voted, 4-1, to unite with the three other beach towns to hire a joint coastal-engineering coordinator/consultant to handle all 2022 beach nourishment projects among them.
The Town Council signed on to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that Duck, which is spearheading the multi-town collaboration, subsequently released. Three applicants responded to the RFQ.
(See The Beacon’s 3/8/20 post, in which we described the assessment of Duck’s RFQ as “inadequate.”)
To his credit, Councilman Jim Conners dissented at the March meeting, protesting that the Town was “putting the cart before the horse” because it had not yet approved a beach nourishment project.
And it still has not.
The other four Town Council members adjudged that by voting to include Southern Shores in Duck’s RFQ—which Councilman Conners said he had read “four times and I’m still unclear” about what it covers—they were not making a commitment that they could not withdraw later. They could see no “downside,” they said.
On Tuesday, they will see the downside: a $47,599 budget amendment during the 2019-20 fiscal year; a services agreement submitted by CPE-NC for its approval because Southern Shores is a contracting party with the other three towns; and a prospective FY 2019-20 budget amendment for $450,000, to cover more up-front costs.
(Mr. Haskett said at the budget workshop that Dare County will pay $250,000 of the $450,000, but he did not indicate when the county money would be received.)
An even bigger downside to consider is what, if any, ill will the Town would generate with the other towns—especially Duck, which has a very aggressive Town Council and Town Manager—if it backs out of the multi-town agreement now, or scales back its involvement.
At the March meeting, Councilman Conners supported the idea of multi-town cooperation, but said, “I don’t see the rush to approve this right now,” and argued that the “optics” suggest that by joining the RFQ, the Town has committed to beach nourishment beyond maintenance at Pelican Watch. We agree.
He also suggested that any county-wide effort to manage the beaches, and provide for their nourishment, should be led by Dare County, not Duck.
The companies that responded to the Duck RFQ were CPE-NC, which is based in Wilmington and formerly did business as APTIM; Coastal Science & Engineering, which is based in Columbia, S.C.; and Moffat & Nichol Engineers of Norfolk, Va.
The town managers evaluated the applicants—their rankings appear on page 50 of the Council’s Tuesday meeting packet—and selected CPE-NC to be the coordinator. The next steps for the towns are outlined in CPE-NC’s proposal, which its president, Ken Willson, prepared. (See The Beacon’s blog on 4/27/20.)
The problem The Beacon, and any honest and reasonable person should have, is that the Southern Shores Town Council has not approved a shoreline beach nourishment project for 2022, beyond the maintenance of the Pelican Watch project done in 2017.
Until the Council takes that action it should not be approving a budget amendment and a service agreement like the ones that will before it for approval Tuesday.
That Mr. Haskett has described the proposed budget amendment in a Town document as covering expenditures for a mere “beach profile study” is so vague and ambiguous as to suggest deliberate obfuscation.
The vagueness about CPE-NC’s role, duties, and work timeline as a multi-town beach-nourishment coordinator/consultant and the Town of Southern Shores’ commitment to 2022 projects must stop. All must be clarified, publicly, in plain English, for Southern Shores property owners—as well as the Town Council—to understand.
Mr. Haskett needs to explain in particular what the Town paid CPE-NC, when it was known as APTIM, $45,000 this spring to do, if it was not a “beach profile study.”
POTENTIAL BEACH NOURISHMENT FUNDING
The Town Council also has yet to have a serious discussion about how it would seek to fund a shoreline nourishment project in 2022. The financial data that it authorized paying consultant DEC Associates $35,000 to prepare were compiled, according to Mr. Haskett, “for the sake of discussion.” It is just information, not recommendations, he said of financial materials that have been included in recent Town Council meeting packets.
This information designated municipal-service districts (MSD) in Southern Shores and proposed tax-rate increases according to the MSD, in order to pay for one of four possible beach-nourishment project options that APTIM recommended and the Town Council is supposedly considering.
If the Town Council is not prepared to spread the cost equally among property owners, with an across-the-board tax increase, then it has a long way to go yet with mapping and designating municipal service districts and subjecting its decisions to public scrutiny.
For a municipal service district to be designated, and the property owners within it to be taxed more than other property owners in a town, N.C. law requires a town to attest that the proposed MSD is in need of beach nourishment to a “demonstrably greater extent than the rest” of the districts in town.
Inasmuch as Southern Shores is a town of vacation rental homes whose occupants visit because of the oceanfront, we seriously question the legal justification of the districts that the Town has preliminarily carved out—for the sake of discussion—from the “townwide” tax base, as well as omitted (i.e., the commercial area). They are based solely on proximity to the oceanfront, not on the “demonstrably greater extent” standard.
Currently, the special-obligation bond program that has been financing beach nourishment on the Outer Banks is in abeyance. The N.C. General Assembly inadvertently repealed it last September.
It is this program that permits otherwise unconstitutional disparate tax rates to be assessed against taxpayers in the same town according to districts.
Frankly, the General Assembly has bigger fish to fry now, and so does the Southern Shores Town Council.
THE PROPOSED RECYCLING CONTRACT
The RDS of Virginia recycling contract that is in Tuesday’s meeting packet is the same contract that was in the April 21 budget workshop session packet. No changes have been noted. (See The Beacon, 4/29/30.)
We hope that the Town Council will not take the easy way out and summarily reject the contract, without first tasking Mr. Haskett with trying to join forces with Nags Head and other beach towns to negotiate with RDS for a better recycling disposal deal.
But we have learned not to expect initiative, creativity, and leadership from the Town.
Since last December, when the Town Council first learned that the Town’s curbside recycling was being taken to an incinerator in Portsmouth, not to a material recovery facility for recycling, it has been strictly in reactive mode.
The Interim Town Manager has not reached out to try to problem-solve the recycling crisis. When The Beacon spoke to a recycling specialist at the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality who has been active in the Outer Banks situation, she did not know Mr. Haskett, but she had much to say about the proactive efforts of the Nags Head Town Manager.
We hope the new Southern Shores Town Manager will be more inclined to take initiative and be more adept at doing so.
In fairness to Mr. Haskett, he is doing two full-time jobs now, acting as both Town Manager and Town Planning Director. But this is what the majority of the previous Town Council wanted, unfortunately, especially Mayor Tom Bennett, who made no secret of his preference for Mr. Haskett to succeed former Town Manager Peter Rascoe.
PLANNING BOARD MEETING TOMORROW
The Southern Shores Planning Board will hold a special meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center to consider the new flood maps and to update the Town Code’s flood prevention ordinance found in chapter 16.
A draft of a new flood ordinance has been prepared. You will find a copy of it, along with preliminary flood maps and other flood information at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/httpsouthernshores-nc-govsfloodprotection/.
For a summary of changes integrated into the draft ordinance, see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Town-of-Southern-Shores-Summary-of-Changes-to-DRAFT-FDPO-3-12-2020-Copy-1.pdf
This meeting, like the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday, will be conducted electronically. To learn how to join and/or participate in it, please see: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Southern-Shores-Notice-Electronic-Participation-Planning-Board-May-4-2020.pdf
The Beacon will not be covering the Planning Board meeting.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/3/20