Environment

While Tropical Storm Michael deluged NC, Resource Institute rained money into Moore, Berger campaigns

 

The Atlantic Reefmaker is constructed of concrete and stone. Early versions of the wave breaking technology were square; now they are octagonal. (Photo: Atlantic Reefmaker website)

In October, while North Carolinians were battening down the hatches for the second major storm in a month, $31,000 flowed into the coffers of five lawmakers from a nonprofit organization keen on drumming up business along the coast.

With just a few weeks left until the general election, executives with the Resource Institute and Atlantic Reefmaker, a for-profit company and contractor, contributed to Sen. Pro Tempore Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, Sen. Harry Brown and Reps. Kyle Hall and Dana Bumgardner.

ContributorCandidateAmountDate
Charles AndersonSen Harry Brown1500October 9, 2018
Michael SmithSen Phil Berger1000October 12, 2018
Michael SmithSen Harry Brown1000October 17, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandSen Phil Berger4000October 12, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Dana Bumgardner1000October 8, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Tim Moore5000October 11, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Kyle Hall5000October 12, 2018
Stephanie WestmorelandRep Kyle Hall5000October 12, 2018
Shawn WilkersonRep Tim Moore3750October 11, 2018
John HuttonRep Tim Moore3750October 11, 2018
31000

When added to previous campaign contributions, these and other donors have given nearly $150,000 to just a handful of powerful Republican lawmakers since 2016.

It’s unclear why the financial piling on was necessary. As Policy Watch reported in July, the Resource Institute gave $116,000 to various political campaigns, including Moore, Berger and Hall. After two years of giving, the money finally paid off: Lawmakers inserted into the budget bill a $5 million grant to the Resource Institute — pass-through money from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which was surprised by the appropriation.

The funding was intended for an ill-defined beach nourishment study, even though the Resource Institute, 250 miles inland, had never done that type of work

Now, though, the Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief Bill, which passed last week, has narrowed the scope of work from the coast in general — which, judging from a tepid reception by shoreline protection officials, was a non-starter — to Topsail Island in Pender County.

The idea of Topsail had been floated this summer when Darrell Westmoreland of Atlantic ReefMaker told Policy Watch that the company wanted to deploy this relatively new technology to stabilize the New River Inlet. Developed in Florida, the Reefmaker is a stack of molded concrete trays set with rock, such as granite. They are constructed on fiberglass pilings installed on the sea floor or riverbed. The purpose is to break up wave energy, while allowing water, fish, sand and other aquatic life to pass through.

Atlantic Reefmaker recently conducted a full-court press on the Department of Transportation board. On Nov. 7, Randy Boyd, an engineer with the firm, provided more details on the technology. Some board members seemed impressed, but others had questions about its longevity.

“How long did they last in Florida?” asked one board member. “I don’t know,” replied Boyd. “But they’ve been there quite a bit of time.”

UNC Wilmington is under contract to monitor the Reefmaker’s performance, Boyd told the board.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, Resource Institute has its hands in dozens of stream restoration projects. In addition to the $5 million the organization received in the budget, it got $1 million — although not by name — to work with Appalachian State University to restore part of Payne Branch Creek in Boone. That apparently is not enough: At a recent Clean Water Management Trust Fund meeting, Resource Institute asked for yet another $625,000 to complete that project.

But the CWMTF board questioned its staff’s ability to monitor the Payne Branch Creek project because the money came from the legislature. Resource Institute is accountable only to lawmakers — including those who benefit from the campaign contributions. Ultimately, Resource Institute did not receive its full request from the trust fund — just $425,000 in a provisional grant, allocated if more money becomes available.

The group did receive a portion of its third round of funding — $425,000 — for a 33-county Western Stream Restoration project. Resource Institute had asked for $1.5 million. The project has already received nearly a million dollars over the past three years; total cost could approach $5 million.

The CWMTF board declined to prioritize two other Resource Institute restoration projects: $370,000 for the Elk River and $237,000 for Stingy Branch. Both were placed on the provisional list.”

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