Environment, Legislature

Unhappy with the Resource Institute, two more coastal towns ask lawmakers to divert funds from controversial nonprofit

Sen. Bill Rabon (Photo: NCGA)

The fortunes of the Resource Institute could continue to dwindle, as the towns of Topsail Beach and Surf City are asking their lawmaker for tax dollars originally appropriated to the controversial nonprofit.

Based in Winston-Salem, the Resource Institute wrangled a $5 million appropriation in last year’s budget, first to study alternative technologies for coastal beach nourishment, and then, after Hurricane Florence, to work on innovative recovery and resiliency projects focused on Topsail Island.

The money comes via a “grant-in aid” from the NC Department of Environmental Quality. However, agency officials said they did not request the appropriation. DEQ has had a combative relationship with the Resource Institute on stream restoration projects, which are under scrutiny by the Legislative Program Evaluation Division.

The $5 million did not go directly to the towns — Topsail Beach, North Topsail Beach and Surf City — but to the Resource Institute to apportion based on project rankings. As the intermediary, the Resource Institute charged a 12 percent administrative fee of $600,000. The hefty commission, along with undue pressure North Topsail Beach felt to accept the Atlantic Reefmaker as one of its funded projects, prompted town officials to petition Sen. Harry Brown for their own share of the money.

Atlantic Reefmaker, a wave-attenuation technology, is a spinoff company of a main contractor for Resource Institute.

Last week, Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, amended Senate Bill 95 to peel off $1.6 million and redirect it to North Topsail Beach.

Officials from Surf City and Topsail Beach have indicated they want their share, said Steve Smith, chairman of the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission. He made the remarks last Thursday at a regularly scheduled public meeting.

“I expect this bill to change again,” Smith said. “The other two towns want to be treated equally.”

Smith said he had contacted Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican representing four southeastern counties, including Pender, for help. Rabon did not respond to an email sent by Policy Watch.

“There has been a lot of discussion about [the requirement] that the technology be innovative,” Smith said. “But there’s not a whole lot of new help being offered by the Resource Institute.”

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