A 6:00 p.m. meeting on Thursday, March 3, at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building will provide an update on a handful of oceanfront homes in Rodanthe that are in danger of collapsing, and will give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the imminent issue.
Sometime before the early morning hours of February 9, a five-bedroom home along Ocean Drive in Rodanthe collapsed and fell into the ocean, creating a debris field that extended from the beaches of Pea Island to northern Salvo and beyond.
While efforts are still ongoing to remove the debris and trash from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches, there’s an immediate concern that more homes in the surrounding area will follow suit.
“There are approximately 11 houses here that are very vulnerable to the ocean,” said David Hallac, National Parks of Eastern NC Superintendent. “My last understanding of the situation is that there are 8 of the 11 homes that the Dare County Building Inspector tagged as having some type of deficiency, or in many cases, being an unsafe structure. That is a very serious concern.”
“The building inspector has reported to us that there is the potential for collapse for more than one of these homes as well,” added Hallac. “We are obviously staying away from the homes because it’s an unsafe area, but some of the homes are wobbling and making cracking and creaking noises, and they definitely appear to be unstable.”
There are limited options for protecting the homes before they potentially fall into the ocean. Most of the homeowners in the Ocean Drive area do not have enough room to move their homes further back, or to another higher-elevation spot within the lot, and it’s unlikely that the erosion in the Tri-villages area will subside in the near future.
“All signs point to this being a problem that is going to get substantially worse,” stated Hallac.
In the case of the February 9 home collapse, the homeowners were in contact with the National Park Service (NPS) and Dare County immediately, and they hired a contractor to help remove the debris. However, even after a few hours, remnants and materials from the home had spread for miles along the shoreline, and beach-goers as far as northern Buxton have reported seeing home-related debris washing up on the sand over the past several weeks.
“We learned about the home collapse around 7:00 a.m., and within 24 hours, we already identified debris [up to] seven miles away,” said Hallac. “A day after that, debris was spotted around ORV Ramp 34. Point being, once the house collapses, there is a very high likelihood that debris will be scattered along the National Seashore beaches.”
“Without question, the best approach to managing the situation is for the homeowner to move or remove the structure before it collapses,” said Hallac. “Once it happens, it becomes damage mitigation, instead of damage avoidance.”
Hallac reported that the NPS has been in contact with the other homeowners in the danger zone to formulate a plan before the homes and associated debris create a new problem. Funding for removal generally falls on the homeowners, but in situations where miles of beaches are being infiltrated with debris, the NPS may have to step in.
“The way we look at it is that we have a duty to protect the beaches,” said Hallac, “and it’s a case-by-case situation. If we notice that the homeowner is making a significant effort to clean up, and is able to [effectively] clean up the beaches, that would be the end of the incident. If we continue to see debris and the owner is not cleaning up anymore, we would have to put in an effort to [clean the shoreline.]”
After February 9’s house collapse, (as well as after a similar house collapse incident in May of 2020), the NPS hosted volunteer clean-ups that asked the community to assist in cleaning up the beaches. But with multiple homes in a similar situation, a broader conversation is required to try and identify a better solution for the long term.
“We are really concerned about this. This is America’s first National Seashore, and it’s very concerning to have this amount of debris strewn across these pristine beaches,” said Hallac. “This may also be the tip of the iceberg. There are other neighborhoods in the Tri-villages, in Avon, in Buxton, and possibly other areas of the seashore where these precarious situations are occurring, or may occur in the future.”
About the March 3 Meeting:
Thursday’s meeting will start at 6:00 p.m. at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building at 23646 N.C. Highway 12 in Rodanthe, and everyone is invited to attend to learn more about this imminent issue, and the potential steps forward.