Rift opens in push to shift tax money from beaches to inlet

By on June 10, 2015

Nags Head beach nourishment project, August 2011 (Sam Walker).

Nags Head widened its beach in 2011. (Sam Walker)

Two e-mails and several Facebook posts from a Dare County commissioner and the owner of the Pirate’s Cove Yacht Club have inflamed an already sensitive subject — paying to dredge Oregon Inlet with money from a fund now restricted to beach nourishment.

The e-mails and posts emerged from earlier conflicts between using money from the Dare County Shoreline Management Fund to dredge the inlet or pushing for legislative authorization to levy an additional quarter-percent local sales tax, which now appears unlikely.

Some are questioning their timing and rationale: The Board of Commissioners seemed to have settled the issue when it voted unanimously June 1 to pursue the Shoreline Fund option, which would require the General Assembly to amend a state law.

Under the law, the 2 percent of the occupancy tax that goes into the Shoreline Management Fund can be used only for beach nourishment.

Pending legislation would provide $4 million from the state for inlet dredging. The county has promised to contribute another $3 million.

County commissioners backed off of the Shoreline Fund option for their share early this year in favor of the local sales tax increase. When that stalled in Raleigh, they shifted back to the Shoreline Fund idea, which previously created an uproar during a Board of Commissioners meeting.

Now, apparent miscues and political arm-twisting have put some community leaders in a position of choosing sides between beach nourishment and inlet dredging.

Most favor both. But the latest behind-the-scenes rhetoric suggests additional pressure for broad support to ensure passage of legislation authorizing the use of Shoreline Management money for dredging.

Here’s what Jim Tobin, the Pirate’s Cove owner, wrote to Nags Head officials in a June 5 e-mail. Tobin is chairman of the county’s Oregon Inlet Task Force Advisory Committee.

From: Jim Tobin
Date: June 5, 2015 at 3:07:57 PM EDT
Subject: FYI
I have heard through the grape vine that there is a large group of citizens that are in the process of obtaining legal counsel to seek an injunction against all beach nourishment/re-nourishment North of Oregon Inlet in Dare County. This injunction will seek definitive proof that zero sediment from nourishment projects in all of the northern municipalities are not contributing to the shoaling in Oregon Inlet. I was told that they will be seeking this injunction because of the total lack of support from the municipalities that they feel are contributing to the shoaling problems at Oregon Inlet.

Just thought you should know,
Jim Tobin

Asked to put this e-mail in context, Tobin told the Voice, “l don’t know if it’s true or not . . . I heard it through the grapevine . . . and I thought the municipalities should know.”

But some town officials took the e-mail as a warning to get on board with the occupancy tax option.

Town leaders are concerned that tapping into the Shoreline Fund could imperil planned beach nourishment projects. Nags Head will soon have to consider re-nourishing. Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills have projects in the pipeline.

On June 6, Commissioner Beverly Boswell sent an e-mail to Sen. Bill Cook and Rep. Paul Tine declaring, “the gloves were off” and claiming the “Good Ole Boy Network is alive and well in Dare County.”

 She went on to say “Fishermen need to fish. They cannot rush to Raleigh and stand up to the Tourism lobbyist.”

Her letter then moved on the Dare County Tourism Board, saying, “I am frightened by a tourism board that holds MILLIONS of our tax dollars. Millions, and they say that it is THEIR money. I beg to differ. That money belongs to Dare and her citizens. The citizens have no input on how THEIR money is being spent. This needs to be corrected.”

One percent of the occupancy tax is reserved by law for use exclusively by the Tourism Board to help generate shoulder-season business. The Shoreline Fund does not include that money, nor does it include another 2 percent that goes to the towns for their general operating budgets

Boswell also had harsh words for another interest group: “The greed of the TB (Tourism Board) and the Realtor Board has amazed even me.” 

She challenged the two legislators: “Where do you stand? Are you going to stand with the bullies, the ole boy network?”

Boswell reposted on her Facebook page an item from the Eye on Dare blog that highlighted Commissioner Warren Judge’s “apology” to the rental industry on behalf of the board at the June 1 meeting over the occupancy tax muddle. The occupancy tax is paid by visiting renters.

“Don’t apologize on by behalf,” she wrote. “I don’t owe the ‘Rental Industry’ an apology.
I apologize to the citizens of Dare for asking for a tax increase when the OT (occupancy tax) can be used. Instead, we still have the elephant in the room . . . The Good Ole Boy Network.”

In another post on Facebook, she wrote, “Fishermen and like minded people UNITE!!!
There is a secret war going on in Raleigh. The Beach Nourishment People against sharing the OT for dredging. Lots and lots of lobbyist…you know…follow the money! A bunch of hypocrites, if you ask me!”

The Voice directed questions to Boswell about her e-mail and Facebook arguments.

When asked if she was saying she was opposed to beach nourishment and whether placing sand on the beach was a worthwhile investment, Boswell wrote: “The jury is still out on whether beach nourishment on the Outer Banks is or was a worthwhile investment. I do not share the love affair with beach nourishment that others seem to have.”

Boswell said she wanted to see other measures, including offshore hardened structures, to augment sand on the beach.

Boswell added, “I have said over and over that Dare County is committed to beach nourishment. This includes funding. I have never suggested, attempted or asked the county not to support beach nourishment. I believe that we should and will honor that commitment.”

Asked if the intent of her e-mail and comments were designed to create a divide between “inlet” and “beach” nourishment supporters, Boswell replied, “Of course not. Again, I have said over and over this in not an either or project. In meetings I have said repeatedly we are Dare County. We need to work together to resolve unique issues.”

Despite Boswell’s more conciliatory tone, one town commissioner asked, “Why are we fighting over something everyone agrees upon — we need an open inlet and wide beaches.”

A commercial fishing industry representative attributed the problem to the way in which Cook’s office rolled out Senate Bill 160 in Dare County:

“It is obvious all of the stakeholders were not kept in the loop on this bill. It was an error of exclusion when it should have been inclusion. The question is, how do we heal the rift?”

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