Growth is happening rapidly in Carteret County and this fact has the attention of the four Bogue Banks town mayors of Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle. Unfortunately, these four town officials are not that confident that the rest of county is as concerned or prepared.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper stated this concern during a Jan. 29 planning retreat that included a report on the construction of I-42 which terminates in Carteret County and which he feels is going to have a major impact on development. “The growth is going to happen in the Highway 70 corridor and Beaufort, but people are going to want to go to the beach,” the mayor said. He expressed confidence in his town’s planning efforts but went on to worry, “but in our county, we’re not prepared.”
Those are poignant words and should get the attention of county commissioners and the elected leaders in the county’s other seven towns.
We applaud the beach towns for their foresight and aggressive planning as detailed by reporters Mike Shutak and Brad Rich in Sunday’s News-Times.
Atlantic Beach is aggressively pursuing water and sewer services for the town’s primary business district located on the beach causeway. Additionally, the town is addressing the need to control traffic and development. “Before we put pipes in the ground, we need to have our development rules in place so we can ensure what’s built is what people want to see,” Mayor Cooper noted in one of several stories.
The continued growth of homes, businesses and the resulting traffic has all four beach towns addressing stormwater drainage issues. But the demands of this growth are particularly acute for Emerald Isle which is now planning to dig a new well to serve the western end of the town. That issue is contested by town residents and unless the town greatly restricts growth, the water demands will need to be met.
Traffic continues to be a problem for the towns since there is only one artery, Highway 58, which serves all of Bogue Banks. To reduce traffic congestion in Emerald Isle the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the town have settled on traffic circles which were controversial when first introduced but have since been accepted in the town, and now others are planned.
But traffic circles are only a temporary solution. Despite the hesitancy expressed by several officials in the beach towns, Highway 58 will need to be widened to a minimum of three lanes, if not four, in the near future. This is not what most residents want to hear, but the reality is that growth is happening just like the rising tide. The current residents can put their hands out to stop the growth but it will be temporary at best and futile at the end.
One telling statistic indicative of both current and potential growth on Bogue Banks is the electrical service provided by Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative. Over 27 per cent of the power company’s 31,722 transmission and distribution poles are located on the barrier island. That’s a significant investment in infrastructure when considering that Bogue Banks is a little more than 26 miles long and the land mass is very small in comparison to the rest of the power company’s service area which includes western and Down East regions of the county.
Another strong indicator of the county’s continued growth is the record breaking room tax revenues reported by the county’s Travel Development Authority for 2020. Despite strong, even onerous, restrictions on travel mandated by Governor Cooper in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism remained high. If it were not for the governor’s restrictions and public hesitancy to travel, there is every reason to believe that the county’s tourism numbers would have been even higher, resulting in amplifying already stressful conditions on the island.
Mayor Cooper astutely observed in his town’s planning retreat that the challenges that he and other beach town mayors are seeing are as much a regional issue as they are a local concern. “It (planning) is going to be a regional problem that needs a regional solution,” he noted.
The pandemic has probably provided some slowdown for the county’s growth but that is only a temporary pause. The time for planning is fast disappearing but the impacts of failing to do so will be permanent and costly. As Ben Franklin famously noted, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”