At their April 4 meeting, the Dare Commissioners will hold a hearing on a proposed special tax service district to help fund the $27 million, 10-year beach nourishment project in Buxton. The plan to create a narrow tax district consisting of the 34 oceanfront properties in Buxton most directly affected by the project was approved by a 4-2 vote at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting.
It’s not clear what the commissioners will hear from Hatteras Island residents at that meeting, but Sentinel interviews with a number of them found two prevailing sentiments. One is that beach nourishment is badly needed and even overdue. The other is that the proposed tax district funding plan is unfair.
At the Feb. 15 commissioners meeting, Commissioner Allen Burrus — who represents Hatteras and is not seeking re-election — told the Sentinel the project could be financed through occupancy tax revenues that are earmarked for beach nourishment projects, as town projects are.
“Things are tight and times are hard,” he added in a recent interview. “Just about everyone thinks it’s unfair — but they know they have to accept it.”
The man running unopposed for Burrus’ seat on the board, Board of Education Member Danny Couch, views the tax district as intrinsically unfair.
“Hatteras Island has contributed significantly to the beach nourishment funding mechanism set up by Dare County, something like twenty to twenty-five cents of every dollar,” he said. “Hatteras‘s generation of tax revenue has helped significantly to finance the municipality projects…”
Couch asserted that the county, state and federal governments all “have a stake” in the project and that the Department of the Interior is particularly involved, since it “owns three out of every four miles of Hatteras Island… It costs one hundred and twenty dollars for residents and property owners every year to drive on the beach, and that money should be fair game for the tax district.”
Carol Leigh Dillon-Dawson is the owner of the Cape Hatteras Motel, one of the Buxton oceanfront properties in the proposed tax district. “A lot of people are upset,” she said. “In fact, they’re furious.” Referring to the millions spent on dredging Oregon Inlet, she added: “What amount of taxes are the fishermen paying to use that inlet?”
“It’s a shame,” stated Rauna Fuller. “My family owned a lot of property in Buxton that was taken by the Park Service in the fifties. They made lots of promises — we would always have access to the beaches, our highway would be protected. They just haven’t kept them. And now they want to tax people for something that should have been done all along as regular maintenance?”
Buxton oceanfront homeowner Christie Roberson was fatalistic about the funding plan. “We are at everyone’s mercy to do what we are asked,” she said.
Aside from opposition to the tax district, there is widespread recognition among the residents interviewed that, whatever the funding mechanism, the beach nourishment work is desperately needed.
Dillon-Dawson said the aggressive dredging of Oregon Inlet — combined with the presence of the terminal groin at the south end of the inlet — are contributing to Hatteras Island’s powerful south-to-north littoral drift and literally “pulling sand off our beaches.” She said one geologist told her the next new inlet will form less than a mile north of her motel.
Roberson recounted how she and other oceanfront homeowners in Buxton “have pushed sand, hauled sand, cleared roads and maintained accesses for over ten years” and followed advice to place expensive sandbags on the beach — only to find that they “created a slue effect” that worsened the erosion.
“Buxton is in a state of emergency,” she emphasized. “We have to get this [beach nourishment] done by early summer or we’re done.”
“It’s become a safety issue,” added Rhonda Koon, explaining that sections of N.C. 12 from the north end of Buxton to the south end of the island are “impassable…with two to three feet of water in some areas.”
Recounting his heart attack in 2011, Raymond Austin said he would be “in trouble” if he had another medical emergency — and worries about other people with medical conditions who are literally risking their lives to stay on the island.
One thing is certain, he said: “If we don’t put something there to hold the sand in place, it will just wash away. The beach nourishment will be a quick fix — but one that only lasts until the next hurricane comes.”
source: Neel Keller, Outer Banks Sentinel