April 19, 2016

UPDATE: State tosses cold water on NPS  plan to address flooding


Stormwater at Cape Point has finally dried up, but so has the hope that the state will approve a National Park Service proposal to counter further flooding at the campground and ORV access ramps.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Division of Coastal Management told NPS Outer Banks Group Superintendent Dave Hallac on Monday that a park plan to drain the flood-prone areas behind the dunes would violate a rule that forbids connecting water bodies and another standard that protects wetlands.

“The bottom line is they thought the ability for us to cut a ditch to the ocean is not permissible,” Hallac said in a telephone interview. “We also can’t pump from the pond to the beach.”

Record-breaking rainfall between October and February – the highest recorded since 1895 - had inundated the Cape Point Campground and Ramps 43 and 44 to Cape Point.

But the area has been plagued to varying degrees with flooding since 2004, when the Park Service, prompted by a state-issued wetlands violation, stopped actively managing the drainage system, a series of ditches and canals partly controlled with a weir or culvert.

Shortly after Hallac arrived in January 2015, he decided to try to resolve the problem. Last month, the Park Service proposed digging a 3- to 4-foot trench to the ocean, and converting an upstream culvert to a weir.

Hallac had explained earlier that the park had determined that the only way the water would drain is through a trench running to the Atlantic.

Despite the already heavily-manipulated area, and the long-standing method of drainage at the Point, the state informed Hallac that it could be challenging even for the Park Service to secure a variance to allow their proposed plan to go forward.
But the superintendent said that the five people from the state, some of whom drove five hours from Morehead City, were reasonable and helpful.

Robert Tankard, assistant supervisor in the regional office of the state Division of Water Resources, said he was one of those who visited Hallac at his office on Monday morning, before the group toured the Buxton site.  

Hallac said in an email that he showed them the culvert system behind the campground, the pond between the Inside Road and the beach, and the open beach.
Tankard said in an interview Tuesday that Hallac was advised to get an elevation survey done at Cape Point, which will help answer questions about what will work under regulatory requirements.

“All we have said is ‘You need to protect the wetlands,’” Tankard said, relaying the conversation with Hallac.

If the Park Service uses a weir, he added, it is critical that a certain level of water be maintained in the wetland.

Tankard said that the state is willing to work with the Park Service to resolve the issue and find a permissible management solution. But step one is completion of the survey.

“We believe it’s possible,” he said, “but we will not know anything until there is an elevation shot.”  

Hallac said he will regroup with his Outer Banks Group team to evaluate the situation and the process for obtaining an elevation/hydrological survey.
Meanwhile, the good news is that Cape Point is nice and dry, except for some puddles at Ramp 44.

“There’s no flooding situation right now,” Hallac said. “The campground is open, the ramp is open – and has been for the last month.”

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