NPS refusal to drain stormwater is a
point of contention for islanders and visitors
it seems as though if I sit back and wait long enough, the National
Park Service will yet again create a situation, or allow a situation to
occur, that boggles the mind. In fact, when it comes to how this region
is managed by both NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least for
those of us that pay attention to the details, the reality of same can
The other day, during discussions regarding the
incredible mosquito outbreak here on Hatteras Island, I was asked by my
good friend Kim, a very talented local artist, "Why is it that this
seashore is so poorly managed and why does NPS let it fall apart like
That, of course, is a question I cannot answer because
it makes no sense to me either. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Recreational Area was the nation’s first national seashore and to date
is the only national seashore recreational area in this vast country we
call home. Visitors arrive here from all over the United States, Canada
and even Europe. What they find upon arrival is becoming an
embarrassment to the people of this nation as it becomes increasingly
obvious that NPS doesn’t care for this area and is intent upon the idea
of driving humans away from a resource that they have been told by
Congress to develop for recreational use as needed.
I think it
is a fair assumption that in order to follow the stated direction of
congress, NPS would be required to maintain this seashore and its
regions for the purpose of recreational use as directed.
are aware, at the end of August this year, Hurricane Irene took a long
slow voyage through the Pamlico Sound which ended up dumping about six
and a half inches of rain here in Buxton, the "elbow" of Hatteras
Island. This is the point where the island turns southwest and
terminates at Hatteras Inlet, separating Hatteras from Ocracoke Island.
Because of the way the storm passed, the southern end of the island
fared reasonably well, though our neighbors to the north -- Avon,
Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo -- were hit with extreme soundside flooding
that came with such force it destroyed significant sections of our
lifeline, Highway 12, wiped out many homes and businesses, and even
broke through or flowed over the oceanside dunes.
compounded the issue was a low pressure system that, for a time, was
stuck on the Great Lakes which drew a significant amount of moisture up
from the Gulf of Mexico. Adding insult to injury, another low formed
off of the coast of Florida as the front moved east. The result was
that Buxton, alone, received more than two feet of rain in one month.
then came the amazing swarms of mosquitoes, many of which were Asian
tiger mosquitoes, known carriers of the West Nile Virus.
assault by spraying was initiated by Dare County, and it had some
effect, but within days another "hatch" would occur and we were back to
was appalling, and still is, concerns the flooding of the area around
the NPS managed campground near Cape Point and the road leading to that
area and ramps 43 and 44.
This is not a new issue by any means.
It has, in fact, been a point of contention between residents of
Hatteras Island, visitors to our incredible resource, and NPS since
Hurricane Isabel on Sept. 18, 2003. Many times visitors and residents
alike have complained about this consistent flooding to NPS officials,
who promptly turn a blind eye to the situation. It has in fact been the
subject of many a discussion on various and sundry Internet forums, and
yet nothing has been done.
For years, the blame for this ongoing
issue has been placed upon the shoulders of Jan DeBlieu who works for
the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and stories of lawsuits
connected with this flooding and the demise of the maritime forest all
seem to have ended up in her lap.
Something just didn't seem to
add up in this explanation, so I took the opportunity to call Ms.
DeBlieu so I would have an explanation from "both sides" of the issue.
As it turns out, though it can still be said that there are "two sides"
to this issue, Jan DeBlieu isn't one of them. Instead, with no
surprise, the other side is the National Park Service.
Hurricane Isabel, a once healthy maritime forest has been flooded and
essentially destroyed, turning it into a swamp and an obvious haven and
breeding ground for mosquitoes. Another side effect of this action has
been the inundation of the campground at Cape Point, though now it
seems that the latest excuse for not draining the area is, according to
seashore Superintendent Mike Murray, "We don't drain wetlands." Prior
to that, the issue was coliform bacteria, aka E coli, which supposedly
prevented responsible management and maintenance of this area. Sometime
around 2005-2006, I proposed that NPS either buy or lease a portable
water treatment unit which, as I remember, was capable of treating
upwards of 6,000 gallons per hour and would have allowed for the safe
discharge of fluids either into the sound or the ocean but that, of
course, has never been considered.
To give the reader an idea of
how serious this problem can become, I present a couple of photos taken
after the major rain event and its effects. Credits go to myself and
Kim Mosher who took the campground photo.
As you can see, there
is a tremendous amount of water here, enough that even the wind can
move it with ease. You might also notice in the wake left by the truck,
that the color of the water is a "tea brown" caused by rotting
vegetation. The part that's missing is the stench and the inordinate
number of mosquitoes that are breeding in these waters and the obvious
threat to human health. Not just from the mosquitoes, but from the
septic system at the campground, which could easily float, the bacteria
contained therein, and the threat to the aquifer that both residents
and visitors to this island rely upon for fresh water as our supply
comes from the wells established here and not upon water pumped from up
north (meaning Nags Head and points beyond).
blame for this issue is not Jan DeBlieu's but rests squarely in the lap
of NPS. The issue she raised back in 2003 was that NPS had constructed
drains to allow disposal of water from the ocean overwash as a result
of Hurricane Isabel without applying for an emergency permit from the
North Carolina Department of Water Quality. Shortly after Isabel hit
the island, Ms. DeBlieu flew over the island to survey the impact and
discovered these new drains, then contacted the state to inquire about
the permits, which are required by law. As it turns out NPS and then
Superintendent Larry Belli had never applied for the permits and had
taken matters into their own hands.
concern, of course, was that significant amounts of E. coli bacteria
would be entering the ocean, which could infect fishes and swimmers
coming into contact with these waters. NPS also neglected to post
warning signs of this hazard, as they are required to do.
you can see in the photo of drainage in the works, post Isabel in 2003,
that's some rather nasty looking stuff headed south. The drain was one
of apparently three cut by NPS to deal with the flooding.
let's stop blaming someone who was just doing her job and put the fault
where it belongs. What's happening at the seashore rests clearly within
NPS responsibility and, of late, we've seen yet another glaring example
of the agency’s intentional mismanagement of our trust and the area we
gave them to protect.
It's sadly ironic that NPS claims that
they must close vast areas of our recreational area to, as they
advertise, "preserve for future generations," while at the same time,
they destroy a maritime forest, which by law they are required to
preserve, and so blatantly create and preserve public health hazards
that can serve no real purpose other than to drive residents and
visitors away from our treasured resource.
The fact is NPS could
obtain a permit to drain this area if they applied for an emergency
permit from the NCDWQ. Obviously, they're not interested and would
rather drive us away and subject the residents and visitors to
potential infections of West Nile Virus -- not to mention the damage
done by this standing water to vehicles, which by the way, include
those driven by NPS as we own them too.
Well, Mr. Murray, you
may not drain wetlands that your service created in violation of
federal law, but I warrant that you will be hard pressed to define the
paved road leading to Cape Point as a wetland. Furthermore, considering
the decades of photographic evidence showing this area as being rather
dry, especially the road and campground area, I doubt you'll have much
luck there either.
Since neither you nor your propaganda
minister, Ms. Holda, seem to be able to properly manage this seashore,
might I suggest you apply for a position in Alaska counting polar
bears? At least there you could have just about all the "primitive
wilderness" you could care to.
Well, I'm done with my rant, but
I still can’t answer Kim's question. Why is the Park Service letting
this seashore become so degraded?
Golding, aka “Wheat,” lives in Buxton and is an advocate for free and
open beach access, which is a frequent topic of his blogs on “Wheat’s
Eye on Hatteras Island, N.C.” He describes “Wheat’s Eye” as “An ongoing
prospective of life on Hatteras Island as well as the destruction of
Americas first National Seashore by the court, the Park Service and
environmental groups.” You can read more of his blogs at http://wheatseyeonhatterasislandnc.blogspot.com/.)