Topsail Island looks to rebound from Hurricane Florence

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The storm hammered Pender County’s beaches, but officials say the recovery is already well underway

PENDER COUNTY — In all likelihood, tourism at Topsail Beach and Surf City will not be as robust next spring and summer as has been the case in past years. But Topsail Beach Town Manager Michael Rose said it’s not going to be a bust, either.

Debris cleanup from Hurricane Florence continues in Topsail Beach, Rose said, and will probably continue in the weeks and even months ahead as absentee owners work piecemeal on repairing and renovating properties.

Much of the beach debris has been collected, and he expects that part of the recovery to be completed in the next week or two.

“Certainly by the time we get into the season next year, I believe our beaches will be in good shape,” Rose said. Topsail Beach has 24 access crossovers, all of which survived Hurricane Florence, though most were damaged, he added.

That mirrors the work taking place in neighboring Surf City, where, manager Ashley Loftis said, debris cleanup is nearing completion.

Surf City has 30 access crossovers, 29 of which suffered damage from Florence. Town officials have repaired and reopened about a third of them, Loftis said, including the largest access in the center of town.

Dunes did their job

The beach itself stood up to the storm pretty well, given Florence’s strength and longevity, and Topsail Island officials are working hardest now at repairing and restoring sand berms that served their main purpose — protecting the property and infrastructure that sits behind them – very well during the storm.

“We were very happy overall with the way the dune structure stood up,” Rose said. “That doesn’t mean the dune structure wasn’t impacted.”

Much of the lost sand, which washed inland, has been collected, screened, and replaced on the berms, he added.

In Surf City, a berm at the north end of the island was almost completely destroyed, and its rebuilding is at the top of the list of recovery projects, Loftis said.

Both strands lost sand. In Topsail, some of that material did not wash far out, and is being slowly returned to the strand by wave action, Rose said. He estimates that the beach lost about 1.5 million cubic yards of sand due to Florence.

“We still have a pretty good stretch of beach for recreational purposes,” Rose added. “The waves are not lapping at the dunes.”

Rebuilding the beach?

Topsail Beach is an engineered beach, which gives it greater access to recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is facing an expense of about $6.4 million for Florence repair to the berms. Full beach restoration will cost about $17 million, Rose estimated.

“We actually lost quite a bit of sand,” Loftis said of Surf City, and while it’s unlikely to think that a beach nourishment project can be undertaken before tourist season in the spring, she is hopeful that sand can be added to the beach next fall through a locally funded nourishment project that had already been in the works.

Surf City is not an engineered beach, but is working toward that designation, awaiting just the completion of the locally funded beach nourishment project. According to Loftis, repairs from Florence and completion of the work to achieve an engineered designation has a total tab of about $67 million.

“Surf City is open,” Loftis said. “The majority of our businesses and restaurants are open, and we encourage people to come out and visit us.”

Surf City business owner Chris Medlin echoed the positive sentiment.

“From what I’ve seen the (storm) response has been great,” said Medlin, whose East Coast Sports was damaged by the storm and is closed for repair and renovation, set to reopen next spring. “I’ve been through Fran and Floyd and all those, and I think (this recovery) has been very methodical. I think Surf City has done an excellent job.”

Vacation rentals, Rose and Loftis agree, will be a little tighter than usual in 2019, given the damage to homes in both locations.

Both encourage visitors to make their arrangements early.

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