The mess on the northern Rodanthe
beach is property owners’ responsibility, say
county and Park Service….WITH
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
of debris lining Highway 12 through Rodanthe will be carted off by Dare
County, but county officials say that the remains of houses scattered
up and down the beach must be removed by the property owners.
house at the end of Dean Avenue fell into the ocean on Dec. 30 and was
still sitting in the water days later, its interior exposed and the
gaping contents pounded by surf. Some of the debris has now been washed
as far south as Salvo.
The house, which had been damaged by
Hurricane Sandy in October, will be removed by a contractor hired by
the property owner Debbie Burns, said county manager Bobby Outten.
Outten said other people with damaged houses also are expected to
remove any associated debris from the oceanfront.
are not allowed to clean up private property with tax dollars,” Outten
said. “The property owners bring the debris to the curb. What we do on
our end is push them to get that done quickly.”
was not a presidential declaration related to Hurricane Sandy in Dare
County, no federal emergency funds are available for clean-up costs, he
said. As a consequence, most of the debris removal is being
by county workers who have been diverted from their regular tasks.
“It’s going to take weeks,” Outten said. “We’re going as fast as we
with hot tubs, toilets, sinks, remnants of cabinets and the remains of
stairs, walls and floors scattered over miles in the surf, the
foreshore and the dry beach, the question of who is responsible for
what debris is unclear.
Outten said that the National Park
Service beach north of the Rodanthe pier has eroded away, but the dry
sand is private property and the wet sand is still either federal or
The Park Service’s Solicitor General’s
office issued an opinion a year or so ago that the foreshore area
between the mean high water line and the mean low water line remains
Park Service property, said Steve Thompson, NPS special park uses and
“That area belongs to the Park Service no
matter where it is located,” he said. “It’s our jurisdiction and it’s
ocean beach for the public and it’s administered by the Park Service.”
But Thompson said that the park is not planning to clean the debris off
Park Service’s position is that it is the responsibility of the
homeowner,” he said, “to the extent that we can identify it.”
the beach along Mirlo Beach mostly eroded away, oceanfront homes and
the highway are especially vulnerable to powerful storm-driven waves.
In recent years, two houses on the north end of the subdivision have
been lost, and another one is teetering in the surf.
northern-most house had been issued a permit to move before Sandy hit,
said county planning director Donna Creef. But the owners did
have time to relocate the house prior to the storm.
Wednesday, she said, there were 29 houses on the beachfront in Rodanthe
that were still under “unsafe structure” notice by the county. Of them,
15 were in Mirlo Beach, on the north end of the village.
with the state Department of Transportation are in the process of
rebuilding gigantic sand dunes by S-curves, an area on the south end of
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Mirlo. The road
recently reopened there after being replaced.
and sand on Highway 12 has been a constant headache for NCDOT at
S-curves and Mirlo, with the road repeatedly damaged or destroyed by
storms. After Hurricane Irene in August 2011, for instance, tide from
the sound tore up the roadbed on Highway 12 and portions of Mirlo’s
private roads and driveways.
The county and DOT are separately investigating the possibility of
doing beach nourishment to widen the beach in the area.
said any nourishment project would be required to meet agency
regulations, and the Park Service in the past has frowned on such
“It’s not a matter of whether the Park Service is going to allow it or
not,” he said. “It’s a permitting issue.”
Beach homeowners have been pushing for beach nourishment as the best
solution. In the meantime, they have been rebuilding the dunes in front
of their houses that were flattened during Sandy, said Wes Hutchinson,
vice-president of the Mirlo Beach Home Owners’ Association.
There has also been a side benefit of the dune construction.
“Right now there’s a lot of nourishment by default from the sand dunes
they’re building,” he said.
of the damaged houses south of Blue Sea Road in Mirlo will be restored,
he said. Property owners recently cleaned up storm debris that had
collected in the subdivision’s wetland area on the west side of the
Despite the continual challenges with erosion and
transportation access at Mirlo, Hutchinson said that oceanfront houses
are still being sold, at least some in foreclosure sales.
“They do rent fairly well,” he said, “as long as they keep standing.”
the house that fell in the ocean last weekend was on the other end of
Rodanthe near the pier. And it was a year-round residence the owners
had purchased to live out their retirement years.
she has urged Burns, the owner, to “move as quickly as she can” to get
her collapsed house off the beach, but she acknowledged that the county
is limited in what it can do.
“A lot of people think ‘Oh, the
county needs to get the beach cleaned up,’” she said. “But it’s easier
said than done because a lot of that debris is in the water.”
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