A Move to Drier Ground

Soundings - - Dispatches - — Pim Van Hem­men

In 1999, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice moved the 1870 Cape Hat­teras Light­house in North Carolina 1,500 feet in­land to pro­tect it from the en­croach­ing ocean. Even though the bea­con had been built 1,500 feet from the seashore, some 129 years of ero­sion and sea level rise had closed that gap to as lit­tle as 50 feet.

While park of­fi­cials in­sisted on the move for fear that the build­ing would top­ple, of­fi­cials from Dare County tried to pre­vent the re­lo­ca­tion. They wor­ried that the 198-foot struc­ture—the tallest brick light­house in the na­tion—would crum­ble in the process. The Park Ser­vice pre­vailed in court, and a con­trac­tor spent 23 days us­ing rails to roll the bea­con to a wooded lot.

Now, al­most 20 years later, the light­house con­tin­ues to shine. Its old foun­da­tion and the old park­ing lot, which sits hun­dreds of feet in­land from the beach, flood reg­u­larly. The park­ing lot some­times has small waves break­ing on it, but the new park­ing lot and the ligh­house did not get flooded by Hur­ri­cane Florence.

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