Like previous years, in addition to recapping the stories that held our attention in 2018, we also like to take a look ahead to see what stories will likely pop up in the headlines in the year to come.
And you’ll probably notice that there are quite a few carry-overs on this list from 2018, too. It’s an interesting time to be on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, as there are a number of projects and concerns that have been in process or have been looming for years, and a good chunk of these projects or issues are scheduled to be tackled in 2019.
So what else can we expect in the next few months? Let’s start with a project that everyone on Hatteras Island has been anticipating for at least two decades…
Bonner Bridge Grand Opening, and the Jug Handle Bridge
Though there were some recent weather delays due to a fall that was filled with storms and two hurricanes, the new Bonner Bridge is slated to open to the public in February or March of 2019 – roughly three years after the project officially broke ground on March 6, 2016.
And though the Bonner Bridge itself will be complete in just a couple of months, the project will continue throughout 2019 as the former bridge is dismantled, and the wreckage is sent to artificial reefs in Oregon Inlet. 1,000 feet of the original bridge at the southern end will also be maintained for pedestrians and fishermen, creating a wider and safer fishing area.
In 2018, our attention was primarily focused on the opening of the Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge on Pea Island, as well as the progress of the Bonner Bridge, however in 2019, the attention will turn to the Jug Handle Bridge. Breaking ground in the summer of 2018, the 2.4 mile North Rodanthe Bridge, (better known as the “Jug Handle” Bridge), is also going to be a hot topic as it continues towards its prospective 2020 opening date.
Ocracoke Passenger Ferry
In December, the North Carolina Ferry System released its official 2019 schedule for the new Ocracoke Express passenger ferry service, with a slated debut occurring on Tuesday, May 14.
The Ocracoke Express will carry as many as 98 passengers on a speedy 70-minute trip from Hatteras directly into Ocracoke Village. Service will begin with three round-trips each day, with fares ranging from $5-15 round trip, depending on time of travel.
The passenger ferry service was created to alleviate summertime congestion on the popular Hatteras / Ocracoke vehicle ferry route. The $4.15 million catamaran-style ferry is currently being constructed at the US Boat Works Shipyard in Hubert, but is expected to be delivered and begin its test runs along the Hatteras / Ocracoke route in February.
In 2014 and 2015, five private companies applied to the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, for permits to use air guns for seismic testing to search for oil and gas on the Atlantic Ocean floor. In November, 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service granted the companies’ collective applications, which is the next step towards offshore drilling along the U.S. East Coast.
However, lawmakers, organizations, and the local public at large are all fighting back. A coalition of environmental organizations has filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging last month’s approval, and North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein, along with attorneys general from Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia and New York, quickly got on board with the lawsuit as well.
“In moving to intervene on the side of the organizations, the attorneys general are seeking to file their own complaint on behalf of their respective states,” the group stated in a press release.
On a local level, the testing has also been publically opposed by Outer Banks organizations as well as lawmakers, such as Dare County Board of Commissioner Chair Bob Woodard.
Only time will tell if these mass efforts are successful, but it’s a story that will certainly be monitored by residents all along the U.S. coastline throughout 2019.
New Parking Areas and Seashore Changes
Assuming that the partial government shutdown that began on December 22 ends in the near future, Hatteras Island will also be getting two new beach access parking areas in the spring of 2019.
New parking areas at Kite Point in between Avon and Buxton, and at the former Naval Facility / Coast Guard housing complex at the end of Old Lighthouse Road, are slated to begin construction in early 2019. The Kite Point parking lot is being established on the soundside, just south of the current Haulover Day Use Area, and will have spaces for approximately 50 cars, as well as a paved entrance and a hard-packed surface utilizing clay and shells instead of pavement.
The new parking area at the end of Old Lighthouse Road is being constructed in two phases. The first phase of the Buxton Day Use area project includes clearing the road and opening the entrance to the site, as well as installing roughly 50 parking spaces, and a portable “Mobi-mat” walkway to provide handicapped access. Sand fencing will also be installed at several small portions of the site where potential pollutants have been identified by an examination contracted by the U.S. Coast Guard several years ago.
In addition, the National Park Service may finally finish the full removal of the old Frisco Pier in 2019, which was delayed due to damage to the shoreline and the adjacent parking area from Hurricane Florence in September, 2018.
Long-Term Flooding Solutions
In November of 2018, stakeholders from the county government, National Park Service, NCDOT, and the local community met to start the discussion on long-term flooding solutions for northern Hatteras village, and the southern Outer Banks on the whole. Though these conversations are in the earliest stages, multiple parties involved in the November meeting have stated that the ball is rolling, and the conversation will continue in the months and potentially years to come in order to maintain access to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
“We’re going to have to deal with what Mother Nature is handing us, and it’s not going to be convenient,” said Dare County Board of Commissioner Danny Couch in an earlier interview regarding the meeting. “But we can’t get away doing what we’ve been doing anymore, which is reacting to each individual storm event. We either start being proactive now or it’s only going to get worse.”
Finally, There are Some Big Changes Coming to the IFP…
I am absolutely horrible at keeping secrets, so the fact that I’ve been able to keep my mouth shut on a project that we’ve been working on in-house throughout 2018 is a darn miracle.
But now, we can finally and freely share that the Island Free Press is on the verge of unveiling the new IFP2.0 website, complete with all the bells and whistles.
The new site was in process even before our beloved editor and co-founder, Irene Nolan, passed away in 2017. Rightfully so, our new site will be dedicated to Irene, and we hope it will be everything she envisioned.
We are thrilled that our new website is finally coming to fruition, and we will be posting articles next week as we get closer to flipping the switch, with much more information about our site’s cool features.