Long-term guidelines for Outer Banks erosion being established
BUXTON, N.C. — The National Park Service is setting rules on replenishing battered dunes and shrinking shorelines along the Outer Banks.
The new guidelines would speed up permitting within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore over the next 20 years and set parameters for projects such as widening beaches and rebuilding sand barriers to ocean overwash.
Dozens of replenishment projects have taken place over the years, from constructing the first dunes in the 1930s to building jetties and widening beaches.
But they’ve been done on a case-by-case basis, without long-term guidelines in place. The permitting process is arduous and routes through multiple government agencies.
These changes aim to speed up and smooth out the process, while also adding long-term consistency, for the swath of coastline that spans 67 miles from Nags Head to Ocracoke. Nine villages such as Rodanthe, Buxton and Hatteras Village lie along the park’s beaches.
Once the rules are approved, the end result for Outer Banks beachgoers is that the government will have a better plan to protect the coastline while also respecting the wildlife that call it home.
“We are on a long and very narrow sandbar,” Dave Hallac, superintendent of the National Parks of Eastern North Carolina said during a public meet
ing about the proposed rules Tuesday. “It’s largely been engineered by humans.”
Hundreds of threatened sea turtles and shorebirds nest on beaches occupied at the same time by dozens of anglers and sunbathers. Rangers set boundaries around the nests to protect them.
The parks service is weighing three options for its new rules, though one is to change nothing and another is to stop beach replenishment projects altogether, which would make N.C. 12 impassable and damage the islands’ tourism industry.
Park officials want the third option, which would limit beach replenishment to 6 miles a year and only during winter months when turtles and shorebirds are not nesting. Additional miles would be allowed after major storm damage. The park would not have to do an environmental review that takes six months or more for
each project and could approve them almost right away, Hallac said. Permits would still be required from other agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Jan Dawson, owner of the Cape Hatteras Motel, supports that plan.
She is still cleaning up after Hurricane Teddy passed offshore while a nor’easter and high tides also arrived. She had more than 4 feet of sand on her lot.
“It’s not something we haven’t seen before and we are resilient,” she said. “But do we want to keep doing this? No.”
Some of the largest waves on the East Coast pound not far from oceanfront homes. Storms strike the coast here in summer and winter. Beaches at Avon and Buxton are losing about 10 feet a year. Big swells regularly break through the dunes depositing sand on N.C. 12 and oceanfront property.
Occasionally, storm surge cuts a new inlet from ocean to sound. It can take weeks to refill the breach with sand and rebuild the road.
Sea level measured at an Oregon Inlet gauge has risen nearly 9 inches since 1977, according to the park service.
Several sites need beach widening, including Buxton, Avon and Frisco. Dunes must be stabilized in several places including the north end of Ocracoke.
The Buxton beach was widened along three miles in 2018, but a succession of winter storms wiped out much of the work. Dare County plans to widen it again next year.
All of that work is critical to the Outer Banks’ tourism industry. In 2019, 2.6 million visitors spent more than $168 million in communities within and near the seashore, according to park statistics. The spending supported 2,422 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $211 million.
The park service is seeking public comment on the proposed guidelines, a required step before they can be put in place.
Comments must be submitted by Nov. 2. They can be sent electronically to ht t ps: // parkplanning.nps.gov/CAHASediment. They can also be mailed to Cape Hatteras Sediment Management EIS, Superintendent Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive Manteo, N.C. 27954.
Huge waves break just off the beach in Buxton last year during one of many storms that strike here, destroying dunes and depositing sand on the highway.