The North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association’s annual conference Nov. 18 and 19 brought officials from the state’s coastal communities to the Blockade Runner Beach Resort to discuss a range of issues impacting coastal interests, from beach renourishment and inlet dredging to the ongoing controversy surrounding the Biggert-Waters Act.
In an interview toward the end of the conference, NCBIWA Executive Director and Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons said he was pleased with the turnout and discussion he had seen so far.
“This is far and away the biggest crowd we’ve ever had attending,” Simmons said. “That’s a combination of people starting to feel like there are issues that they need to be more engaged in and they need to be more active on, and the fact that we had pretty good presentations on some of those issues.”
One issue that retained a place in the spotlight during the conference’s first day was the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. A Monday roundtable discussion of the issue preceded Rep. Mike McIntyre’s keynote speech, during which he seized the opportunity to rail against the act and assure attendees he was working hard to fix the legislation, which has prompted outcry from coastal communities across the nation as the source of skyrocketing insurance rates.
McIntyre is a primary cosponsor for a bill currently being moved through Congress that aims to delay some of the sudden rate adjustments being decried by many coastal property owners.
“When Biggert-Waters was put into place it was done as an effort to sustain the future of flood insurance,” McIntyre said. “However, when FEMA decided to start redrawing maps … and doing without Congressional authority the things that none of us expected, we ran into a bureaucratic nightmare. It was a classic case of public policy going amuck.”
The first speaker at the conference, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District Commander Col. Steven A. Baker, discussed a litany of issues on which the federal agency, which has jurisdiction over all navigable waters of the U.S., is currently working.
Among those projects, he said Wrightsville Beach’s upcoming nourishment project has faced obstacles both from the continued demand for dredging operations as a result of Hurricane Sandy and the recent budget fights at the federal level.
“This life of continuing to live on continuing resolutions makes it very hard to plan and use funds effectively,” Baker said. “We end up wasting money, because we don’t get it until the last minute and then we have to spend it in about three months. It’s freaking ridiculous. If any company did business like this, they’d be out of business.”
Baker said the Wrightsville Beach project would be advertised by the following day, adding it is “already planned, designed and ready for action – we just need a contractor to come start the work.”
In all, about 140 people attended the conference, mainly staff and elected officials from beach towns and coastal counties, in addition to representatives from businesses and non-profit organizations. The schedule was packed with 28 back-to-back presentations, broken up only by networking sessions and roundtable discussions.
Simmons said planning was underway for the conference six months before, when the organization’s planning committee began narrowing down topics.
“It takes a ton of time, not just by me but by a whole committee of folks who are involved in creating what this becomes for two days.”
The conference is a main funding source for NCBIWA, which Simmons said primarily goes toward educating its members and the general public on issues important to coastal communities.