UPDATE: Ramp 43 reopens, restoring
ORV access to Cape Point
By IRENE NOLAN
Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials today reopened Ramp 43 in
Buxton to give drivers off-road vehicle access to Cape Point, but the
area is still flooded and the Park Service urges drivers to use caution.
With today's opening, only three other ramps in the seashore remain
closed because flooding from rain and ocean overwash earlier this month
and late in September.
Ramp 44 to Cape Point is still closed because of water levels remain high on the ocean side of the ramp.
Ramp 49 to Frisco's South Beach.
Ramp 72 on Ocracoke -- though South Point is accessible via Ramp 70.
Also, the last turtle nest on the seashore hatched late last week and
was excavated early this week. All ORV routes are now open to
driving at night.
According to seashore superintendent David Hallac, who visited the
flooded areas on Hatteras yesterday with park staff members, the newly
reopened Ramp 43 still has considerable water and soft sand in it.
As of this morning, Hatteras Island District Ranger, Joe Darling,
reported that there was still 12 inches of water in places along
Lighthouse Road leading to Ramp 43, and in the ramp itself.
"Any users that choose to drive down Lighthouse Road and use Ramp 43
should use caution, drive 5 mph or less, and be careful about traffic
coming from the opposite direction when the lane of travel is narrow,"
Darling said in an e-mail.
This afternoon, Darling reported that the water level in Ramp 49 in
Frisco has dropped about two inches since he checked a week ago on Oct.
"The water receded down the ramp about 15 feet," he said. "However, the
water levels are still roughly 1-2 feet deep on the majority of the
ramp....I can say it is definitely receding and (it's) going to take
Hallac said that he has heard from several residents who have urged
park officials to take some action to get the water levels down more
quickly, such as draining the flooded areas.
Many residents remember that a decade or more ago, the Park Service
regularly drained areas -- such as Ramp 44, Cape Point Campground, and
the Ramp 49 area -- that flooded in hurricanes and other storms.
A system of drains between Buxton and Frisco in the wetlands funneled
the water into a drainage ditch that was opened, dumping the stormwater
into the ocean on the South Beach in the area of the hook.
That practice was abruptly halted after Hurricane Isabel, reportedly
when an aerial photo of the drain came to the state's attention. The
photo showed a plume of brown water from the wetlands flowing into the
Hallac said he had heard that the stormwater was once drained and has
found a letter in the seashore's files from the state's Department of
Environment and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality. The letter
is dated September 16, 2004.
In the letter, Robert Tankard, then the acting water quality
supervisor, writes that a DWQ staff member had met on April 28, 2004,
with a Park Service staff member and a representative of the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to discuss "a drainage feature located adjacent to
the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Campground."
"Subsequent investigation of this system," Tankard wrote, "indicates
that the drainage way was opened up by the NPS to allow the waters of
the drainage canal to discharge directly into the ocean."
He continued to write that "draining of wetlands and subsequent
altering of natural hydrology of wetlands" is considered a violation of
state and federal law. DWQ staff, he says, had determined that
the opening of this drainage way to the ocean is a violation of wetland
Tankard said his office would require a mitigation plan for the site in
30 days and that it would be determined later whether any enforcement
action would be recommended.
Apparently, there was never any enforcement action, but the park
discontinued the practice of draining stormwater into the ocean.
At the time, Lawrence Belli was the seashore's superintendent.
Hallac said that he and other seashore staff members are currently
looking into the flooding situation and what the park can and cannot do
within state and federal laws.
"It's not clear," he said, "if we can even get an emergency permit (to
drain)," he said. "This is just the beginning of the discussion."
Click here to read the 2004 letter to the NPS from the state Division of Water Quality.