This is the first in a series of bi-weekly reports from Town Manager Dave Gilbride. These reports will serve to inform both the Board of Aldermen and the general public on the progress of town projects.
USACOE Federal Project
One of the primary functions of local government is to protect property and infrastructure, and the Town of North Topsail Beach acted to do just that by engineering the beach at the south end of town, often called Phase 5, back in 2016. This action, which protected infrastructure and property through Hurricane Florence, Dorian, and Isaias, ensured that the cost of replacing sand loss due to named storms would be eligible for reimbursement by FEMA.
In order to perform this project the Town borrowed approximately $17,000,000 from the USDA, a manageable 30 year loan. In North Carolina, however, municipal borrowing and debt is overseen by the State’s Local Government Commission (LGC). The LGC would not approve a 30-year payment plan for sand, and demanded a more timely payoff of the loan. In addition the loan required that North Topsail Beach maintain a “Reserve” of just under $1,000,000 and a “Sinking Fund” of almost $4,500,000. The Town has complied with the terms, and this money is in the bank – but restricted.
Given the number of years that the “Federal Project” was bandied about, there was no assurance that it would ever materialize, and NTB acted to protect the Phase 5 property and infrastructure without any hope of a federal project approval. It should be noted that our partner in the project, Surf City, was prepared to embark on a similar private project in contract with TI Coastal when Hurricane Florence interrupted their plans. The funds earmarked for that private beach nourishment project remained in their beach fund and will help them with the unexpected but welcomed Federal Project.
The difficulty facing North Topsail Beach right now is how to finance our participation in the project. Although the plans will address only the southern four miles of town, the Corps of Engineer’s project would be a tremendous benefit to the town. In order to participate we must determine:
How quickly we can pay off the USDA loan. The LGC will not allow us to finance the initial project until or unless the USDA loan is paid off.
At what point the project would actually begin in North Topsail since we would not have to begin paying on the new financing until that point. We may be able to get enough breathing room to pay off USDA before having to begin paying the Corps of Engineers financing
If the LGC will approve our taking on this debt, particularly in view of the Project Partnership Agreement with the Corps of Engineers requiring “Joint and Several Liability” with Surf City. If we agree to that it will appear that we have a $41,000,000 credit exposure, making it difficult for us to do any other project, beach related or otherwise.
Part of the difficulty in resolving issues lies with the Corps itself. This district has not done an initial construction project like this in over 20 years, they have never had a client utilize their 30 year financing, and they have never had two towns on the same Project Partnership Agreement. Getting timely answers to fairly basic questions has been somewhat problematic.
In order to be in a position to move forward with this project with confidence, the Board of Aldermen authorized Doug Carter of DEC Associates to evaluate NTB’s ability to pay off the USDA loan prior to the start of debt service to the USACOE. This effort is ongoing, and a workshop is being scheduled for later in October to hopefully decide on a path forward.
Capital Improvement/Fire Station
Doug Carter of DEC Associates continues to rebuild the mathematical model which will allow us to have a clear picture of both our financial position and our borrowing ability going forward. While much of his analysis to date has involved determining a path forward for our participation in the Federal Project, the need for a replacement of the south fire house and additional capital requirements are on his radar.
The sandbag revetment repair project which is the result of the settlement of litigation is being moved along by the “Revetment Committee”. A total of $650,000 will be expended on engineering and sandbag replacement, with $200,000 coming from the town, and $450,000 from the affected property owners. The project engineer has been requested to assemble a bid package for the project in compliance with North Carolina purchasing regulations. Upon receipt of bids repair work will begin promptly.
Town Park Repairs
In an effort to reduce the accumulation of sand on the tennis/pickleball courts our DPW has installed some protective silt fencing around the courts. Damage to the roof of one pavilion during Hurricane Isaias has been prepared. We are monitoring the effects of salt water overwash from the County beach access across the street on the new sod; hopefully the damage and discoloration is temporary and the grass will bounce back. We recently received an initial check for $40,000 from The Golden Leaf Foundation to defray some of the construction costs. Additional funds will be available when the final contractor invoice is received.
Bid packages for the restoration of the Town Hall have been available for the last few weeks, and a well attended “pre-bid” meeting was held at the building last week. The bid opening is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct 13 @ 2:00 PM. According to the project engineer, “If the Board of Aldermen approve bids in a called meeting the week following receipt of bids, a week for our office to produce construction contracts and 2 weeks for the town attorney to review and for signatures, that would put the executed contracts the first week of November and construction starting before the end of November. We are looking at 6 months construction time so that puts you in the building May or June of 2021.”
The Town and low bidder C. M. Mitchell have agreed to split the difference between the arithmetic error value and the final bid amount so that the bid can be awarded and the project move forward. Agreements are being finalized, and the truck haul is expected to begin with the conclusion of Turtle Season in mid-November. This project will restore the dunes lost with Hurricane Florence from approximately the Myrtle Ave beach crossing north to the Reefs. A second phase will restore the engineered beach in Phase 5.
The original charter for the Town of North Topsail Beach specifically prohibits the Town from annexing any properties across the Intracoastal Waterway, voluntarily or otherwise. As there has been some interest expressed in voluntary annexation, I have asked the Town Attorney to advise on how we can go about effecting a change in the charter to lift this restriction.
TISPC (Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Committee)
The recent legislators’ visit to Topsail Island was a success, with issues regarding CBRA and hardened structures clearly illustrated for the Congressmen. NTB personnel were fortunate to have considerable “alone time” on this trip which included stops in Surf City and Topsail Beach.
Beach Access #2
Restoration of Beach Access #2 was completed, and shortly thereafter offshore storm effects rendered the access unusable. One of the advantages of the Hatteras Ramp used here is that it can be removed or retracted easily. With the arrival of autumn we will likely not fully restore the access until after the Florence truck haul project is completed.
Data was compiled on the intersection of NRIR and Island Drive to determine if any adjustments to intersection identification were warranted at this time, and whether major changes should be pursued in the future. While the particular period may not have been ideal weather-wise, the data does not support any major changes to the intersection configuration at this time. Personnel from JUMPO agreed that identifying a right and left turn lane might be called for, any change might best be considered after repeating the traffic study next summer.
Corps of Engineers Inlet Dredge
Originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 environmental window, the dredge contractor was unable to complete the contract with the Corps. The contract remains open and active, with the contractor obligated to complete the project during the 2020-2021 environmental window. During a conference call/WEBEX meeting this week the dredge schedule showed the New River Inlet on schedule for November 2020, though the dredge contractor has some discretion in scheduling; Mayor Pro Tem Benson has asked for a more specific date for the commencement of dredging activities and the placement of sand on the north end beach.
Onslow County Beach Access #4
The repair work to the building and parking lot at Onslow’s beach access has resulted in a breach of the dune line allowing ocean water to flood their parking lot, North New River Road, and the recently completed North Topsail Beach Town Park. In preparing for Hurricane Isaias, NTB personnel constructed a protective berm using the parking lot material. This action was effective in preventing overwash at that time. While we restored the parking lot material following the storm, we received criticism from both the county and CAMA for taking this action.
In a conference call on Friday, October 9th, Mayor McDermon, Mayor Pro Tem Benson, and staff discussed the situation with County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bright, Commissioner Bennett, Manager Sharon Russell, Assistant Manager Warren, and CAMA District Manager Brownlow.
To summarize, the position of county management is that restoring the berm which protects the road and park would somehow interfere with their FEMA reimbursement. They therefore refuse to repair the berm, or allow NTB to repair it. The County Commissioners seemed willing to help provided a solution could be found that would not jeopardize FEMA funding or violate state permitting. Assistant Manager Warren was directed to look into the possibility of temporarily restoring the berm, at least until the project is ready for FEMA final inspection.