On May 7, The Beacon posted the following notice:
“Mark your calendars for Tuesday, May 19, at 9 a.m., if you would like to submit what appear to be your last public comments before the Town Council votes on approving an estimated $14 million to $16 million nourishment project of the entire Southern Shores coastline.”
Having now reviewed the videotape of the Town Council’s May 5 meeting, we are no longer certain that the Council will make a decision about a beach-nourishment project on May 19 or that May 19 will be the last opportunity for the public to comment.
The Council’s May 19 workshop, which will be held at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center, will likely be devoted to a discussion of the desire and need for beach nourishment, the project options recommended by a coastal-engineering consultant, and potential funding for a project, but Council members may not take a vote on approving a specific project option. They may delay a vote until some time in June.
In fact, Councilman Matt Neal, who took the lead last week on pushing for a meeting dedicated to beach nourishment, suggested that the Council have a “good solid meeting and discussion” on May 19, looking at the “necessity” for nourishment in Southern Shores and some proposed municipal service district tax rates that have been prepared for funding it, but not take a vote.
He suggested instead that a two- or four-week period ensue during which the Town would “solicit public comments.”
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey endorsed Mr. Neal’s approach, suggesting that the Town staff be “tasked” with figuring out “how to solicit public opinion.” She floated the idea of a townwide survey. Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett said he would bring options to the May 19 workshop session.
We want to “try to be proactive,” Ms. Morey said. We want to “push to try to get people to tell us what they think.”
Town Attorney Ben Gallop clarified that a public hearing does not need to be held on the issue of approving a beach nourishment project. It is strictly up to the Town Council to decide how it will receive public input, he said, when and by what means.
While The Beacon congratulates both Mr. Neal and Ms. Morey for taking the beach-nourishment bull by the horns, if you will—AT LAST—and for giving the public its due, we have to say that procedurally, their comments came up in an unusual manner, which contributed to the confusion of what was actually decided.
Councilman Jim Conners had just made a motion to amend the FY 2019-21 budget to spend $12,203 in unassigned funds on permitting-related work for a hitherto unapproved beach-nourishment project, and Councilman Leo Holland had seconded the motion.
Mayor Tom Bennett had turned to Councilman Neal to start a roll-call vote on the motion, and it was at this moment that Mr. Neal opened a discussion on the Council’s need to consider and either approve or disapprove beach nourishment before committing any more monies to a project.
The Beacon has been critical of the Council’s delay in making this decision, while going ahead with paying a consultant $4,970 to apply for a grant for an entire-coastline nourishment project and spending other monies, including $35,000 to a consultant to prepare preliminary financial data designed to be used to assess increased tax rates on property owners.
The $12,203 budget amendment that Mr. Conners motioned to approve—a revision by Mr. Haskett of a $47,599 amendment that he had originally requested—was another such expense.
“In our defense,” Mr. Neal said by way of explaining the delay, “we wanted feedback from the public.”
With Mr. Conners’s motion, Mr. Neal, who is a bright light on the Council, said he could no longer comfortably move forward “without making a decision” on beach nourishment—or at least defining a decision-making process.
THIS BUDGET AMENDMENT AND AN UPCOMING ONE FOR $450,000
The Beacon was critical in its Town Council meeting preview of the $47,599 FY 2019-20 budget amendment that Mr. Haskett brought to the Council.
The requested monies, according to meeting packet documents, were to pay consultant Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina (CPE-NC), formerly known as APTIM, $17,357 for “2020 annual beach profile data acquisition” and $18,039 for an “annual 2020 beach profile data analysis and report.”
It also included $12,203 for “inter-agency coordination” and permitting work related to an as-yet-unapproved 2022 beach nourishment project.
CPE-NC, whose president is the omnipresent Ken Willson, was selected by the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills to represent them in jointly coordinating their 2022 beach nourishment/maintenance projects.
That the Town Council has not approved a project beyond the Pelican Watch beach maintenance did not stop the Council from fully joining the other towns, whose projects are much larger, in hiring a consultant/coordinator and sharing in expenditures.
Mr. Haskett described the $12,203 request as being for “our share, our 25 percent” of the costs for inter-agency coordination and permitting work.
The agencies with which Mr. Willson has been coordinating include all of the usual regulators, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the N.C. Division of Coastal Management.
Mr. Haskett said at the May 5 meeting that he has had “numerous conversations with Ken Willson over the past month,” but it was not until late April that the four towns selected CPE-NC to be their consultant coordinator, from among three applicants who responded to a Request for Qualifications.
Mindful of the fact that the Town has not yet committed to a large-scale beach nourishment project, Mr. Neal asked Mr. Haskett at last week’s meeting whether the Town would still have to pay to participate in the inter-agency coordination/permitting if it only went ahead with Pelican Watch maintenance.
Mr. Haskett replied: “I imagine we would have to pay our share of the costs for that part of it even though it would be on a smaller scale.”
The price “would probably change,” he said, but he didn’t indicate by how much it would be reduced. Only Mr. Neal seemed concerned.
Mr. Neal also questioned Mr. Haskett about the $4,970 fee that the Council had agreed to pay APTIM (CPE-NC not being known to the Council) to prepare two N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality grant applications, one for money to apply to the Pelican Watch beach maintenance and another for money to apply to option four of the large-scale nourishment plans recommended by APTIM.
Mr. Haskett informed the Council at the budget workshop that the nearly $5,000 fee covered both grant applications. When he told the Council last week that Kitty Hawk had requested grant money for the Pelican Watch project in an application that CPE-NC prepared for it, Mr. Neal asked if the Town would receive some of its consultant fee back.
Mr. Haskett said no, seemingly contradicting the information he gave the Council earlier about APTIM’s fee.
In a previous post, The Beacon questioned Mr. Haskett’s description of the $47,599 budget amendment as being for “beach profile study” expenses only, when it obviously encompassed more. We also asked him to give an accounting of the $45,000 previously allocated in the FY 2019-20 budget for a beach study.
In response to Councilman Neal’s questions at the budget workshop about spring 2020 beach profiling, Mr. Haskett replied that the profiling had been done and the $45,000 appropriation had been spent.
At last week’s meeting, however, Mr. Haskett corrected himself to state that of the $45,000 previously appropriated, only $26,000 has been spent, which leaves enough money in the current budget to pay for the $17,357 that CPE-NC requested.
Mr. Haskett further reported that, according to Mr. Willson, the $18,039 request would not be spent by CPE-NC until fiscal year 2020-21, so this amount also was removed from the budget amendment. That left only the $12,203 expense that represents Southern Shores’ “share.”
After the Council decided to devote its May 19 workshop to beach nourishment, the roll call on Mr. Conners’s motion resumed, and the vote was unanimous to approve transferring monies from the Town’s unassigned fund balance to pay this amount.
Next up for the Council: A $450,000 permitting and design proposal from CPE-NC, which Mr. Haskett told members at the budget workshop would probably be submitted in late May.
Last week the Interim Town Manager did not mention timing of this proposal, only that the Town could expect to receive $250,000 from Dare County to alleviate some of the cost. Of course, until the County’s contribution is in hand, the Town is on the hook for $450,000—assuming it approves a large-scale beach-nourishment project.
When APTIM (now CPE-NC) recommended the four beach-nourishment project options it gave the Town, they ranged in cost from about $14 million to about $16 million. It is reasonable to expect costs to have increased.
As soon the agenda and meeting packet for the May 19 workshop are posted, The Beacon will share them with you.
ZOOM WORKING BETTER, OTHER PROTOCOL CONCERNS
We conclude our May 5 meeting report by noting that the audio for the Zoom video-conference was far superior to what we complained about previously. All Town Council members, including Mr. Neal, were easy to hear.
The only sound problems occurred when off-camera speakers, such as Police Chief David Kole and Fire Chief Ed Limbacher, gave their reports. We had to strain to hear what they were saying and were too often unsuccessful.
We also like the motion roll-call system that was initiated at last week’s meeting. We have never liked voice voting and do not see it used in other Dare County beach towns that are well run.
We do think the Town Council has to be careful about having Town Clerk Sheila Kane state motions, instead of one of them. Perhaps Mayor Pro Tem Morey should be delegated the task of restating motions, so as to ensure that Ms. Kane does not make any herself.
There was at least one time during the meeting when Ms. Kane actually framed the Town Council’s discussion into a motion, at the Mayor’s request, rather than just restate a motion that a Council member had made. Mayor Bennett is increasingly relying on Ms. Kane for support.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/11/20