State Senate approves bill to fund dredging for inlets

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OREGON INLET – The GOP-controlled state senate passed legislation this week meant to ensure that dozens of state inlets and ports remain navigable, thus preserving a major catalyst for economic activity along the North Carolina coast.

The bill, sponsored by senators Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Bill Cook (R-Beaufort), helps provide a solution to a decades-old challenge. North Carolina’s coastal waterways generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic activity, but keeping sand out of inlets and ports – so the commercial fishing, recreational and other boats that use those channels can pass through – has long been a serious problem.

The bill helps address immediate needs at state inlets by infusing the state reserve for shallow draft dredging with an additional $6 million this year from an unspent economic development fund. And it helps ensure valuable economic activity at the state’s ports can continue by establishing a new fund for deep draft dredging and setting aside an additional $1 million in unspent economic development dollars for those efforts.

“With hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity generated in these waterways every year, there’s no question our ports and inlets are vital to coastal North Carolina and our entire state,” said Lee. “This bill takes important steps to preserve and grow their value.”

“Investing in our ports and inlets with available economic development dollars guarantees those funds will be used for just the purpose they were intended – to help create and retain jobs,” said Brown.

Until recently, the federal government put millions toward dredging the channels. But federal funding has been drastically cut, leaving many coastal residents with little access to the waterways on which they make their living. Earlier this year, federal officials even closed Dare County’s Oregon Inlet with only four days left in a major fishing season, costing the state economy $1.5 million per day.

“While the federal government may have had good intentions to start, unfortunately they’ve failed to uphold their promise to care for Oregon Inlet and many other economically vital channels,” said Cook, who represents Dare County. ““This bill makes sure our citizens are no longer suffering the consequences of the federal government’s neglect.”

The bill also:

  • Provides additional flexibility to coastal communities to draw down dredging funds when they are dealing with emergency events like hurricanes or storms.
  • Ensures future dredging needs are supported by those who use coastal waterways by creating a saltwater use sticker for boats longer than 24 feet that use those waters.
  • Allows private citizens and businesses to support future dredging needs by contributing to the state reserves.
  • Improves safety by authorizing coastal counties to remove derelict vessels – which can cause navigational hazards– from their channels.