Technical data

Threatened by rising sea levels, Topsail Island is making progress in setting coastal resilience goals


To mitigate the predicted effects of sea level rise and flooding, Surf City, North Topsail Beach and Topsail received financial and technical assistance through the NC Resilient Coastal Communities program. (Port City Daily / Amy Passaretti)

TOPSAIL ISLAND – “Some people don’t believe it when you talk about climate change, but it’s here,” said Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin. He was speaking at an open house on Dec. 15 for the Resilient Coastal Communities Program (RCCP), a statewide effort into which Topsail Island was accepted.

To mitigate the predicted effects of sea-level rise and flooding, the three seaside towns of Surf City, North Topsail Beach and Topsail have received financial and technical assistance to help local governments implement plans for recovery. coastal resilience.

“We’re going to have to be prepared and do more work to prevent some things from happening,” Medlin said. “We cannot go back and change the climate to what it was.”

The Coastal Management Division (DCM) of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded a total of $ 675,000 in grants in March.

“The state saw the need for coastal communities to have a formal planning process in place,” NCDEQ Coastal Resilience Specialist Mackenzie Todd said at the meeting. “The goal is to bring them into start-up loan status, to make them more competitive for federal grants and to become more resilient. “

The RCCP provides a framework for assessing coastal risks and vulnerabilities, involving community stakeholders and developing projects to improve community resilience.

DCM partnered with consultancy firm Kleinfelder with Topsail Island to help them develop their strategy. The cities formed a Community Action Team (CAT) in October comprising 20 representatives, with at least five from each respective community. Members include city leaders, engineers, planners, business owners and residents. CAT has since held three workshops to develop program visions and goals, review existing local plans and efforts, map critical assets and natural infrastructure, and conduct a risk and vulnerability assessment.

The CAT acts as an inter-city task force, complementing the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission (TISPC), a collaborative effort for beach preservation between the Pender and Onslow County Boards and Leaders Municipalities of North Topsail Beach, Topsail Beach and Surf City.

At the December meeting, the public was invited to learn about the program, its progress and how to get involved.

Topsail RCCP’s vision is to ensure the long term viability of Topsail Island by “preparing infrastructure and populations against rising sea levels, increasing tides and more frequent storms and more. impactful, ”according to its website.

To do this, the program works in four phases. Phases 1 and 2 are working in tandem and are in progress. Members collect community feedback and review existing local plans and strive to avoid duplication.

During this phase, CAT will develop a portfolio of projects and identify potential solutions, especially nature-based ones (such as sand dunes, living shorelines, etc.), and prioritize them based on feasibility and needs.

The main objectives of Topsail RCCP include minimizing damage and loss due to sea level rise; improving the reliability of built infrastructure and road access; prioritize resilience projects and promote them for state, federal and other funding; conserve and adapt natural infrastructure and work with neighboring communities to develop policies that benefit the region.

“We want to coordinate and collaborate as a whole community,” said Michael Hicks, consultant for Kleinfelder. “It’s important because it provides holistic representation, which leads to fair results. “

The Topsail RCCP has developed an interactive story map, which is the first of its kind in the statewide program, to track its progress. The objective is to make all the data and maps available to the communities so that they can be fed into them.

The story map describes basic information about the program, past and upcoming meetings, and highlights data maps compiled to show future projections for the Topsail Beach community, due to impending climate change.

Compiled from data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and DCM, the maps show the specific areas of the Topsail Beach communities that will be most affected by an expected 3-foot sea level rise. by 2050.

“The vulnerability on the island is pretty critical to plan for,” Hicks said. “We have to be able to adapt and be aware of it. “

By 2050, a mobile home community off Inlet Drive is projected to be largely submerged. The community’s police and fire departments are threatened with major flooding, and off-island accessibility will be restricted from Broadway to 9th Street to New River Drive.

“Part of the main escape route is subject to increased flooding by mid-century due to rising sea levels and tides,” Hicks explained, “trapping the southern community trying to leave the island ”.

The available maps also show areas suitable for living shorelines and critical assets most likely to be affected by flood exposure within the 26 mile zone.

Phases 1 and 2 are scheduled to end in March 2022. Once completed, Topsail RCCP can apply for Phases 3 and 4 and will be eligible for funding to cover the engineering and design costs to execute its plan.

“We are currently working on this app and hope to release it next month,” said MacKenzie Todd, Coastal Resilience Specialist at NCDEQ. “This money is going to fund one of these priority projects, whatever you see as a need in the community.”

The initial funding for the Topsail RCCP came from a grant from the NCDEQ Resilient Coastal Communities Program, which ranges from the long-term beach renovation efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The town of Surf City is currently awaiting a new plan from the Army Corps of Engineers for its beach renovation after North Topsail Beach decided not to go ahead with the federal program. The two cities were first tied together on the project authorized and appropriated by the federal government.

RELATED: Left behind by North Topsail, Surf City unites on beach renovation efforts

The state-wide RCCP initiative was open for nomination from all 20 coastal counties. Surf City, N. Topsail Beach and Topsail submitted a joint proposal and were selected from 32 applications. Fourteen other municipalities and seven counties received funds to establish resilience programs, including four cities that had already started the first two phases. Applications were assessed against seven criteria, including level of risk to vulnerable populations and critical assets, economic status, and momentum with related efforts.

Todd said another round of funding for Phases 1 and 2 will be available in spring 2022 from the NFWF for other coastal communities to apply.

Topsail RCCP is tentatively planning to hold another open house with additional updates on its progress on January 25.

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