would-be beach access that Dare County has eyed since the Coast Guard
abandoned its oceanfront base near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse eight
years ago is apparently still a distant dream, as environmental cleanup
of contaminated soil has yet to begin.
Coast Guard is seeking money this year to clean the site, but between
cuts in its environmental remediation budget and the federal budget
sequestration, it is anything but certain that the money will be
meanwhile, will continue to change in their cars, park along the street
and sneak into bathrooms at nearby eateries and convenience stores.
no bathhouse,” Carol Busbey, an owner of nearby Natural Art Surf Shop,
said about the popular surfing and swimming beaches just north of the
lighthouse. “There are no bathrooms. Nothing.”
said that a few portable toilets are provided by the National Park
Service in the parking lot at the old site of the lighthouse, known by
surfers as “first jetty” or “lighthouse beach,” but people avoid using
them. The beach is one of the three within Cape Hatteras National
Seashore that has a lifeguard.
the heart of Buxton, the land at the former Group Cape Hatteras was
once the location of a Navy base that conducted secret monitoring of
submarines. The Coast Guard, which relocated to Fort Macon in Carteret
County in 2005, has demolished its 12 base buildings and plans to turn
the property over to the Park Service, which in turn has tentatively
agreed to work with the county to build a public recreation facility.
the Park Service has no intention of taking back the 40 acres of
property until its condition is returned to acceptable environmental
standards. Depending on the budget, that could be five or more years
down the road.
don’t want to take on the environmental liability associated with
that,” said Darrell Echols, deputy superintendent of the National Park
Service Outer Banks Group. “While they have removed all the
above-ground stuff, they have not cleaned the soil.”
is mostly in the area of two leach fields for the wastewater treatment
facility that had been on the grounds, said Leilani Woods, Coast Guard
testing has revealed evidence of contamination by benzanthracene,
benzopyrene, and other types of chemical compounds that are produced by
the incomplete burning of organic material. Many are known to cause
cancer. Chemicals, such as chlordane, dieldrin, and endrin that were
commonly used in pesticides decades ago were also found. All have been
banned in much of the world because of their dangerous effects on human
health and the environment.
Traces of heavy metals – arsenic, chromium and mercury – were also detected.
are not at terribly high levels, nor are they expected to migrate
offsite,” Woods said in an e-mail, “but they do exceed some regulatory
limits for residential soil and/or groundwater standards.”
said that with the uneven distribution of the components in the soil,
it is likely that the contamination was mostly caused by a pesticide
spill, not just the wastewater plant leachate. She said that it is also
feasible that the arsenic in the soil is at natural background levels.
Sources for the other heavy metals could be related to such items as
fire detection devices, thermometers, or photo laboratories, she said.
on the when money is provided, she said, further horizontal and
vertical testing of the 20-acre site will be done next to determine the
extent of contamination.
“We just know we have stuff,” she said. “Part of our mandate is we have to (remediate) in an economically responsible way.”
the Coast Guard’s environmental clean-up budget has been cut, Woods
said, there is still money available for sites like Buxton. Projects
are prioritized by the “safety and regulatory drivers,” she said.
“There are a lot of projects competing for environmental restoration funds,” she said.
said she has “at least 20 projects” under her in District 5,
encompassing North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and
request has been submitted for about $200,000 for the Buxton
remediation, including the costs for investigation and project design.
Woods said she expects to know by September whether it is approved.
funding is provided, the project, which will most likely involve
removal of the contaminated soil, can be expected to take a minimum of
three years. The goal, Woods said, is to restore the property to
acceptable residential standards.
our objective is human health and safety,” she said. “We just want to
make sure that this site is clean and usable before we turn it over.”
Operated as a Navy base from 1956 until 1982, the site was used as a top-secret submarine monitoring station.
fuel storage tanks and an oil change rack that were at the station are
long gone, but groundwater contamination left in their wake was an
issue until this year. Petroleum contamination in the groundwater has
been monitored for the Navy since 2005 by the Army Corps of Engineers,
the agency charged with environmental restoration at former defense
sites, said project manager Ray Livermore.
Contaminants detected in the groundwater included naphthalene and chlorobenzene.
the last sampling taken in March, he said, all levels in the 11
monitoring wells were below state groundwater quality standards.
said that over time, hydrocarbons naturally degrade. Three more tests
will be taken, each nine months apart. If those samples are also below
the standard, he said, in about 1.5 years the site would be considered
Such hydrocarbon contamination is not uncommon at the closed military facilities, he said.
the Buxton Navy base was operating, it was part of an array of sonar
locations along the East Coast known as SOSUS – Sound Surveillance
System – that was intended as an early warning to protect the U.S. from
hostile ballistic submarines, according to an article on the Navy web
site Undersea Warfare.
In June 1962, the Cape Hatteras Navy base achieved the first SOSUS contact on a Soviet diesel submarine, Whitman wrote.
The system was declassified in 1991.
The site became Group Cape Hatteras in 1981, but has been vacant since 2005.
beach access that currently exists on Hatteras Island is provided by
the Park Service, including bathhouses located between Avon and Buxton
on the soundside, and east of Hatteras village on the ocean side.
Parking is also available at numerous beach access ramps up and down
“We have no county-owned access on Hatteras Island. Zero,” said County Manager Bobby Outten.
are underway, however, for the county to build a bathhouse and parking
area in Rodanthe, near the renowned surfing spot “S-turns” at Mirlo
Beach, he said. The project is expected to be completed by next summer.
said that the former Coast Guard property would be a great place for a
beach recreation facility, but it’s too nebulous of a prospect at this
stage of the game to predict what arrangement the county anticipates to
have with the Park Service, or how ambitious of a project it may be.
don’t think we’re that far along in our planning,” he said. “It is just
a matter that nobody knows what we can do, because we don’t have a clue
when it will happen.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)
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