Oak Island leaders fight for the future of their beaches in town council meeting

OAK ISLAND, NC (WWAY) — Oak Island’s engineer presented future beach renourishment plans Thursday, as well as the bones of a master plan to preserve the town’s coastline.

Oak Island leaders discussed everything from rebuilding berms and dunes to adding vegetation and a $5M-$10M terminal groin to protect the vulnerable west end.

“We’re designing a beach and a dune that will survive or provide protection to the infrastructure right behind it to a 10 year storm or a 25 year storms,” said engineer Johnny Martin.

Hurricane Isaias served as a wakeup call to town council, leveling dunes and leaving residents and homes vulnerable to flooding.

The big controversy coming when council members began discussing whether to have an engineered beach, which may or may not secure FEMA funding, or their traditional recreational beach, which could cost less, but potentially provide less protection in the long run.

“Is it an engineered beach that qualifies for FEMA funding,” asked councilmember John Bach. “The answer has always been probably, but there has never been assurance.”

State senators secured up to $20M for Oak Island’s beach renourishment funds. The catch: the town needs to match whatever funds they use. Local, Mary Ann Fox was passionate throughout the meeting. She hopes for the best, most cost effective option.

“We need to get a comprehensive plan,” Fox said. “Right now an engineered beach, you are not guaranteed that if you lose some of your erosion, that you are going to be reimbursed.”

Martin recommended an engineered beach, saying it’s a surer way to keep the town and beaches safe than doing nothing.

“You’re hedging your bets that we’re never going to get another storm that could take out the first row,” Martin warned.

January’s meeting will bring a more comprehensive list of options, their risks, and outcomes. Mayor Liz White said it’s important to find a solution to keep residents safe, and to be good stewards of their tax dollars.

“So we’re trying to find that middle ground where we feel our residents and town property is safe and can be confident in a plan that we also can afford as a community,” she said.

The mayor and council are still discussing ways to match funds for those projects, but White did hint at fines related to walking on the dunes.

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