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State Seeks Money to Rebuild Coastline After Ophelia

Wed September 28, 2005 - Southeast Edition
CEG



WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (AP) Pressures on state and federal government budgets could make it difficult for coastal communities to get money to rebuild businesses, homes and beaches that were damaged by Hurricane Ophelia, some officials fear.

If damages cross a threshold of about $9 million, communities would be reimbursed for public costs, state officials said.

That would pay for work such as repairing bridges, roads, public buildings and overtime for emergency workers. Money to pay for debris removal could also be available.

The federal government would pay 75 percent of the costs, with the state government picking up the balance

The money to pay the state’s share would likely come from what is called a “rainy day fund” — a savings account with money set aside by lawmakers for emergencies, said Bryan Beatty, secretary for the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Another alternative available to Gov. Mike Easley is for him to order state departments to cut back on their budget and to revert money for use in Ophelia rescue and recovery reimbursements.

In the past, reversions and the rainy day fund have been used to finance hurricane recovery and relief efforts.

The state’s farmers took a $19.6 million hit from Ophelia, the state agricultural department said. And a preliminary report from Onslow County identified $8.5 million in structural damage.

One risk modeling company has estimated that losses would top out at $800 million.

Hurricane Ophelia also left North Carolina beaches eroded and dunes breached or washed away from Brunswick County to the Outer Banks.

Coastal officials say past efforts to bolster sand levels at beaches proved their worth in the storm, absorbing its impact and helping to protect property.

“Now we need to find the money to make sure that we put these beaches back in the position so they can do it again,” said Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons, who also is president of the NC Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association.

But state and federal budgets were strapped before Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast. The damage caused by the Category 4 hurricane is expected to cost more than $200 billion to fix.

President Bush committed the federal government to pick up a large chunk of the rebuilding cost, calling it a national duty.

Some North Carolina officials are also concerned that the massive recovery effort could swallow up funds for coastal projects here.

But U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-NC, said the recent hurricanes could also present an opportunity to highlight the importance of a strong dune line as a protective natural barrier.

“It’s always been hard to get money for coastal projects, it’s always been a battle,” he said. “But with Katrina and Ophelia, coastal restoration and coastal protection might finally receive the attention they deserve.”

Easley has promised to raise the issue in Raleigh to see what the state can do to help the bruised beach towns.

State leaders from the coast note that the General Assembly rallied around mountain communities after storms last year left widespread damage in western North Carolina.

“I hope that same attitude would hold again, considering it involves protecting infrastructure,” said state Rep. Carolyn Justice, R-Pender.