By JOY CRIST
This is a bit of a complementary blog to the last entry, which was a wrap-up of all the stories that grabbed our attention in 2017.
Suffice it to say, it?s an interesting time on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, as there are a number of projects that are in process, and which are worth watching now and in the months to come.
So with that in mind, let?s take a peek at the stories that are carry-overs from 2017, which we expect to heat up or stay in the headlines for a chunk of 2018 as well. From widened beaches, to disappearing piers, to bridges being erected before our eyes, 2018 is already shaping up to be as interesting as 2017.
So what can we expect to see in 2018? Let?s start with one of the literal largest changes in the landscape.
Completion of the Bonner Bridge
On March 6, 2016, construction finally began on the new Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, and while it took more than a decade to get the project off the ground, actually finishing the bridge is turning out to be a significantly faster process. The new Bonner Bridge is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2018, and considering that the construction of the incline sections that will combine the existing three ramp and inlet sections together is on the horizon, a 2018 completion date for the new bridge certainly seems feasible. This story will likely linger for another year or two also, as in 2019, the 1963 original bridge will be torn down, except for a southern section that will be used for fishing.
Start of the Jug Handle Bridge
The 2.4 mile North Rodanthe Bridge, better known as the ?Jug Handle? Bridge, is also going to be a hot topic in 2018, as construction is slated to begin in March, with initial staging and testing potentially beginning as early as January. At around the same time, arguments in a related lawsuit against the state that was filed by a group of tri-village area property owner is also slated to begin in the first quarter of 2018, so while the inevitable path of the bridge project isn?t set in stone, (or sand), it will certainly be a story to watch in the coming months.
Homeowner Changes on the Horizon
There are a couple stories that homeowners in particular will want to keep an eye on as 2018 progresses.
The first is the potential homeowner?s insurance rate hike. Last month, the Rate Bureau filed a notice with the N.C. Dept. of Insurance (DOI) seeking increases in homeowner?s insurance rates as much as 25% in parts of eastern North Carolina. A Public Comment forum was held by DOI in Raleigh on Dec. 12, 2017, and since then, DOI has received more than 2,000 comments statewide. Since the public comment period closed on December 29, the DOI has 50 days to respond to the Rate Bureau. If the Insurance Commissioner does nothing, the new rates will become effective on July 1, 2018.
However, the Commissioner can negotiate a settlement on the filing, which in years past has resulted in less than the Rate Bureau?s proposed increases, and the Insurance Commissioner also has the option to deny the filing, which would result in a hearing/trial being held.
The other potential development, which is not as pressing but worth keeping on the radar, is the changes to the proposed flood maps. First introduced in June 2016, the new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (or FIRMs) are in the process of being adapted ? a process which typically takes 18-24 months for FEMA to review public comments and make changes as needed. Given the timeframe, the implementation of the new maps are on the horizon, and will likely be a story in 2018. (To review the maps, you can check out our story from January 2017 here: http://islandfreepress.org/2017Archives/01.13.2017-PreliminaryFloodMapsExplainedAtPackedHatterasIslandMeeting.html.)
Removal of Frisco Pier
The bulk of the visible sections of the Frisco Pier have completely disappeared from the shoreline, with just pilings in the water remaining. These 120 pilings will be the trickiest part of the project, which is expected to be completed by May 1, (weather permitting), as teams of divers will be enlisted to remove the structures, which may be buried up to 30 feet deep. The complete removal ? as well as the reopening of the parking area to the public and a possible new comfort station ? will certainly continue to captivate beach-goers until the summer arrives.
?New? Beach Accesses
There are a few NPS projects to look forward to in 2018. They aren?t necessarily ?new? access points, but the projects will result in better accessibility for several beloved beaches. The first is a new parking area along South Beach in Buxton – (aka former Ramp 45) – that will cut the walk from the nearest parking area to the shoreline by roughly .25 miles. It?s slated to be completed by the spring of 2018. The second project is the new ADA boardwalk to the beach at Ramp 55, and the third is the revitalization of the parking lot and a potential comfort station, (like the Bathhouse south of Frisco), at the site of the former Frisco Pier. So 2018 is already off to a decent start, beach access wise, and we?ll certainly be watching to see if natural factors combine to keep Cape Point open once again all year long ? which was a huge highlight of 2017.
Beach Nourishment Completion
It has been a long and patient road for homeowners and business owners in the Buxton area, but the last few weeks have been productive for the beach nourishment project, which was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of summer, 2017.
Though we?re well past that original deadline, the good December weather lead to some real progress, with approximately 72% of the project completed as of December 22. (For comparison, the crews had completed just 47% of the work a little more than a month prior, on November 16.) There is hope that by the spring of 2018, the beeping bulldozers and dredges will disappear, and Buxton will be left with a nice, wide beach.
The Ocracoke / Hatteras Passenger Ferry
Expect this to be a big story in 2018.
The summer of 2018 will hopefully mark the inaugural season of the Hatteras / Ocracoke passenger ferry, which will transport 98 passengers at a time from the Hatteras Village ferry docks to Ocracoke Village for a small fee. As the new ferry is introduced, it will be fascinating to watch answers to a number of frequently asked questions trickle in: Will it reduce waiting times for the vehicular ferries? Will it be a popular alternative? Will it increase the visitor population to Hatteras village and Ocracoke? Will it increase it to an overwhelming amount? Expect to see much more about the passenger ferry, (as well as answers to these longstanding questions), as we inch closer to the summer season.
The Shape of Shelly Island
Ah, Shelly Island. We couldn?t possibly discuss hot topics on the islands without you.
I?ve spoken to locals, devout Point fishermen, and several marine geologists in the past few weeks to figure out how Shelly Island will change in the next few months, and the overwhelming response from both experts and plain old beachgoers like myself is ?Who the heck knows??
Granted, Shelly Island isn?t much of an island anymore ? it?s more of a peninsula with an adaptable saltwater lake ? but this could change at any moment. By New Year?s Day it could be gone, or completely separated again, or wider, or narrower, or headed east to England for all we know. There?s just no way to tell.
It is a safe bet that a winter sans nor?easters will keep it nice, wide, and big, (that?s what caused it to form last year in the first place), while a winter full of storms may whittle it down or unceremoniously submerge it altogether. In any case, expect Shelly Island to survive long enough to make the headlines in 2018 as well ? just maybe not at the fever pitch that it was in the summer of 2017.
Now this is just a sample list, and there are certainly other stories that will likely surface in the year to come ? like the accessibility of Ocracoke and Hatteras inlets, fishing regulations, and potential hurricanes, although it?s too early to worry about storms just yet.
But if you?re generally a glass-half-full type of person, then it?s nice to know that as of January 1, there are quite a few things to look forward to. The completion of the Bonner Bridge alone is certainly worth a New Year?s Eve toast. (Especially if you are out and about with former members of Bridge Moms, Replace the Bridge NOW, or any of the other organizations that spent years bringing the new bridge to fruition ? be sure and buy those folks a drink.)
So here is hoping that we have 12 months of good news to share, with few setbacks, storms, or unforeseen obstacles (ahem, here?s looking at you, 2017?s power outage.)
All of us at the IFP hope that your 2018 is as wonderful as possible, and we promise to keep track of these stories and whatever else surfaces in the months and years to come.