It’s that time of year again when we carry on Irene’s annual tradition of looking back at the stories that grabbed – and held – our attention in 2018.
2018 could arguably be classified as “The Year of Unfinished Business… And Weather.” Many of our biggest stories this past year were carry-overs from 2017, like the power outage, the bridge projects, and the new passenger ferry, while many others focused on extreme weather. In fact, even as I type this, I am also contemplating the age-old question of “To move, or not to move?” which all of us underinsured locals must ask ourselves when it comes to our vehicles and potential storm surge flooding.
So with that in mind, let’s jump right in and take a quick look at the stories that dominated our headlines over the past year. And let’s start, appropriately enough, with….
If you needed any indication that 2018 was going to be all about weather, just look at New Year’s Day, when Hatteras Island experienced its first snowfall of the year. 2018 began with a bang, or more accurately, with freezing cold temperatures, ice, snow, soundside flooding, high winds, and a frozen Pamlico Sound with patches of ice that extended for roughly a mile. Cheers!
And this was just during the first two weeks of January, too. As you’ll likely remember, February was one of the mildest months on record, followed by a rough March that saw four different nor’easters, more flooding, more wind, and more cold temperatures. Hot spots along N.C. Highway 12 were regularly inundated with soundside and oceanside flooding, and the phrase “Did you hear there’s another storm coming?” became as commonplace a greeting as “Hello.”
But, there’s a silver lining to this inundation of storms, too. For one thing, we were spared the brunt of the hurricane season, (more on that in a moment), and for another, officials from the county, NCDOT, the National Park Service, and local organizations met in November to start forming a long-term plan to protect N.C. Highway 12 at various points all along the islands. Expect this story to continue into 2019 too, as new ideas are floated on what we can do to preserve access to our islands for future generations.
Florence and Michael
Florence made landfall as a Category 1 Hurricane on September 14 over Wrightsville Beach, but in the days leading up to Florence’s arrival, the forecast track had the storm making a beeline for our islands as a Category 4 storm. This is why 4-5 days prior to landfall, visitors and many locals evacuated in anticipation of one of the worst storms our islands would ever see.
We were gratefully spared the worst of the damage, (with the exception of roughly a mile-long stretch of Highway 12 on northern Ocracoke Island which is still being addressed), but our neighbors to the south and east were not so lucky. This is exactly why so many islanders rallied together to send supplies and food to our Down East neighbors by boat, truck, and any vehicle that could be packed to the brim, and which could navigate through feet of saltwater.
Michael was another, albeit less devastating storm story. Breezing through the islands on early Friday morning, October 12, Michael brought a quick inundation of storm surge and high winds of roughly 50 mph. Though Michael didn’t last long, its affects were arguably worse for northern Hatteras Island than Florence, with rapidly rising sound waters that caused many locals to make a mad-dash to move their vehicles at 12:30 in the morning. Good times.
Early in 2018, islanders anticipated the launch of the Ocracoke Express, a 98-passenger ferry that takes passengers from the Hatteras Inlet Terminal directly to the Silver Lake Terminal in the heart of Ocracoke Village. Slated to begin service in June 2018, the official launch date was pushed back to September as the haul was worked on by contractor US Workboats, and was pushed back again to the spring of 2019, which is where we currently stand on the project.
However, other portions of the $9 million dollar project were completed – and even tested – during 2018. The two passenger lounges at the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry terminals are complete, and the tram service in Ocracoke village was temporarily launched in the days after Florence, due to the inoperation of the Hatteras / Ocracoke vehicular ferry.
So expect this story to carry over into 2019 as well, as we look forward to the new Ocracoke Express’s inaugural run in May.
A Summer of Rip Currents
In 2017, the summer headlines were all about Shelly Island. This year, unfortunately, the headlines were all about rip currents.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore had five swimming-related fatalities in 2018, with the majority occurring before July 1. Many of these were attributed to rip currents, with local organizations like the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad (HIRS) and Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue reporting that their volunteer members were busier than ever addressing swimmers in distress.
But this was also the year of a mass effort to get information out about rip currents to the public. The HIRS created an informative video and hosted free weekly classes on the dangers of rip currents, while Dare County, in conjunction with the National Park Service and other organizations, launched an alert system where the public could get text updates on dangerous water conditions. Most likely as a result of these efforts, the latter half of the summer was relatively incident free, as awareness grew, and warnings about potential rip currents spread across the board.
In the vein of unfinished business, 2018 was also the year that the Buxton Beach Nourishment Project was finally completed, after being delayed for months due to rough weather conditions. The last day of pumping sand onto the beaches occurred on February 27, wrapping up a lengthly project that added 2.6 million cubic yards of sand to roughly 2.9 miles of Buxton’s shoreline. Perhaps not surprisingly, the project was almost immediately tested after completion due to those four March nor’easters, however, N.C. Highway 12 in Buxton experienced reduced impacts during these storms, which was the goal of the $22 million dollar project all along.
Speaking of unfinished business, 2018 was also the year that progress was made on not one, but three distinct bridges on N.C. Highway 12. The new Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge – a much better name than the former “Lego Bridge” – was officially opened in late February, and construction on the new Jug Handle Bridge north of Rodanthe unofficially began over the summer.
But when it comes to bridges, the biggest story of them all – literally and figuratively – is the Bonner Bridge.
Despite weather-related setbacks that have occurred for the duration of the project, (anyone remember the two giant barges that floated into Avon in 2017?), the Bonner Bridge is wonderfully close to completion roughly 2.5 years after breaking ground, and is slated to open to the public in January of 2019. A project that was literally years in the making, (and which started with a local call to replace the bridge in the late 1990s and early 2000s), expect the grand opening of the Bonner Bridge to be one of our biggest stories in 2019.
Power Outage Settlement
Have we run the “unfinished business” theme into the ground yet? Because 2018 was also the year when the U.S. District Court granted preliminary approval to a $10.35 million settlement to compensate businesses, vacationers, and residents of Ocracoke and Hatteras islands who were affected by the power outage beginning on July 27, 2017. The preliminary settlement was reached in May of 2018, and final approval was granted in September 2018, with claims still being accepted for the majority of 2018.
The settlement stemmed from a week-long outage that occurred in the summer of 2017 when contractor PCL Construction accidentally cut the transmission cables that provided power to the islands. Unfortunately, that lost week of prime summer revenue affected countless businesses across the islands, and many residents reported that they were still trying to “catch up” months after the incident.
The 2018 Election was an interesting one, with one of the largest turnouts for a mid-term election reported on both a local and state level.
The election started off with some controversy, with the Primary Election loss of incumbent Beverly Boswell of N.C. House District 6 by Bobby Hanig – an outcome that was attributed to the passing of locally unpopular bills, such as the repeal of the Outer Banks’ Plastic Bag Ban, and a measure to create partisan school board elections.
By the time Election Day rolled around, Republicans Bob Steinburg and Bobby Hanig beat Democrat candidates D. Cole Phelps and Tess Judge for seats on the North Carolina General Assembly, while incumbent Dare County Board of Commissioner Jim Tobin won over challenger Rosemaire Doshier for the District 1 Board of Commissioners (BOC) seat. Democrat Ervin Bateman defeated Anne Petera for the At-Large seat on the BOC, (one of the lone local Democrat wins in the November 6 election), while on a state level, Democrats won enough seats in the General Assembly to break the existing “supermajority” of Republicans.
CHSS Lady Canes
The CHSS Lady Canes Basketball Team was easily one of the highlights of an otherwise stormy winter, thanks to a 25 game undefeated streak that launched them all the way to the fourth round of the playoffs.
Though they fell to the Pamlico County Hurricanes in late February, the Lady Canes were the only team – boys or girls – in northeastern North Carolina’s three high school conferences to make it to the fourth round of the NCHSAA championships, and they ended the season with a stellar 25-1 record.
The loss certainly didn’t diminish the local pride, and residents came out in full force to home games to cheer on the Canes, and even lined the sides of N.C. Highway 12 as the Canes departed for their away playoff game in Bayboro, N.C.
With many players returning for the 2018/2019 season, there’s ample reason to believe that the Lady Canes will once again make waves on a local and statewide level.
Blackbeard’s 300th Anniversary
In late October, hundreds of pirates invaded Ocracoke Island for the annual Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, and although the weather didn’t cooperate for the weekend-long event, (shocker), the festival had special significance as it marked the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s demise off of Ocracoke Island.
The Battle of Ocracoke is internationally famous as Blackbeard’s last stand, as during this event, British Royal Navy Captain Robert Maynard, (under the direction of Governor of Virginia Alexander Spotswood), surprised the notorious pirate in the waters off of Ocracoke Island. Arriving on the evening of November 21, 1718, Maynard engaged Blackbeard in battle the following morning, which led to the pirate’s bloody end.
In the weeks leading up to this anniversary, new interest was cultivated in pardoning the legendary pirate, as the events surrounding his death were filled with political controversies and questionable motives. Author Kevin Duffus, a key player in the pardon initiative, even provided the Island Free Press with an incredible case for pardoning Blackbeard, which you can read here:
So that about sums up the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2018 – (for “ugly,” see the aforementioned winter storms.) With many of these stories carrying over into 2019 as well, chances are that we’ll be revisiting many of these topics in the months to come.
Finally, we would be remiss without mentioning our founder and beloved editor, Irene Nolan, who passed away on March 3, 2017, and who we still write for on a daily basis. Whenever these big stories are looming, we always think about how she would cover them, and proceed accordingly – (personally, I also think about her whenever I make egregious grammatical or spelling mistakes, which are numerous, but which I won’t point out in detail here.)
From all of us at Island Free Press, we want to thank you for helping us keep Irene’s legacy alive and well in 2018, and hopefully for many years to come.
We attribute all of our success to you – our advertisers, our readers, and everyone who shares the Island Free Press, and who loves Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.