The Sunday, Jan. 26 story “Dredging for Dollars” by Brad Rich appearing in the Carteret County News-Times provides proof that both the state and Carteret County have gotten an excellent ROI, return on investment, from the county’s beach commission.
Mr. Rich’s story provides excellent details of the financial impact of 18 years of beach nourishment effort on the Bogue Banks beaches and the subsequent revenues that have accrued to the state, region and county.
Since 2001, federal, state and local expenses on beach nourishment projects, with a few harbor projects added, amount to just over $144 million. Comparing that number with current property valuations of $5.5 billion, (yes that is billion with a ‘B’), and the residual ad valorem tax revenue that is generated annually of $17 million per year, the subsequent 18-year investment of $144 million for beach nourishment is an excellent ROI. If amortized over the 18 years as an annual expense the beach nourishment investment amounts to $8 million annually.
There are other financial benefits noted in the story as well, such as the financial impact of the tourist industry that benefits from our nourished beaches. According to Tom Kies, Carteret County Chamber of Commerce President, the beaches provide a strong tourist attraction and that tourist industry provides over 3,000 jobs in the county. Using visitor expenditure data, the N.C. Department of Commerce estimated the value of the tourism industry for the county to be $377 million just in 2018 alone.
All of these revenue numbers are impressive when considering they originated from a 25-mile barrier island of approximately 100 square miles - a small sliver of land that makes up only seven per cent of the county’s total land mass.
The other impressive fact described in the Sunday newspaper article is that only 38 per cent of the $144 million expenditures came from county funds. The remainder came from federal dollars (52 per cent) and state support (10 per cent). There is concern that the federal funding may not last, which is something that the beach municipalities and the county will have to contend with in the future.
But for now, the county’s beach commission is to be applauded for being so attentive in pressing the case for federal and state support.
Missing in this story was the subjective value of these “sand dollars” for nourishing our beaches and maintaining our waterways, a value that is hard to quantify but definitely deserving recognition.
Because our county has worked diligently to protect our beach communities, we benefit from a strong relationship with businesses and individuals who enjoy our attractive and stable barrier island. The results of that strong relationship offer additional incentive to invest time and energy to preserve the county’s culture and to provide services that might not ordinarily be found in a county of 67,000 permanent residents.
Cultural facilities such as the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the N.C. Maritime Museum, the History Place in Morehead City, Fort Macon and the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores are just a few of the many residual beneficiaries as a result of the efforts to maintain and strengthen the Bogue Banks beaches. And then there are the indirect benefits for our public services, such as schools that have consistently ranked in the top 10 in the state.
All of these subjective benefits in turn improve the quality of life component of both the region and the state, which likewise provide a sales point for both personal and business investment. In the years to come, as industry and the workforce become more mobile due to technological developments, quality of life issues will be even more important in attracting investment and people.
It is these residual benefits that are hard to measure, but they are real and their impacts are already being felt in the county, the region and the state.
In the future, businesses and families considering relocating to North Carolina will take stock of what natural amenities are available. One of those key amenities will be beaches and waterways that are readily accessible as we currently enjoy here.
If the county beach commission along with the beach communities and county government will continue to pursue beach nourishment and maintenance, the future is bright for not only Carteret County but the entire state as well.