By ANNE BOWERS
The road that runs through Mirlo Beach has been fixed and the dunes rebuilt but homeowners face serious questions on how to repair their houses on the east and west sides of Highway 12.
Hurricane Irene delivered a crushing blow to Mirlo Beach, which is located in north Rodanthe, by destroying a large section of Highway 12 and by undermining houses on both sides of the road.
In recent years, the oceanfront houses in this area have been under a barrage from the ocean as the shoreline continues to erode, leaving the structures vulnerable to heavy seas and ocean overwash.
Tailwinds, the northernmost house in this area, met its demise as a direct result of Hurricane Irene on Sept. 2 when it collapsed suddenly and fell into the ocean, littering the entire area with dangerous debris, much of which is buried under the rebuilt road.
Mirlo Beach is where the famous house Serendipity once stood before it was moved to a safer place in January, 2010. Serendipity was used for exterior scenes in the 2008 feature film, “Nights in Rodanthe,” based on a book written by Nicholas Sparks. The film starred Richard Gere and Diane Lane.
Today, several oceanfront and roadside houses are deemed uninhabitable by Dare County and bear the yellow warning notice of an unsafe structure. The Black Pearl and Ship’s Watch, which are now the two most northern houses in Mirlo Beach, are standing but leaning towards the ocean and are under a nuisance declaration from Dare County.
According to Donna Creef, director of the Dare County Planning Department, a nuisance declaration means that the house is in imminent danger of collapse and is a public health risk. A collapsed house creates a massive debris field in the surrounding area, both in the water and on the beach. Owners who have been given a nuisance declaration are asked to mitigate the damage quickly.
Owners are faced with the possibility of tearing down the structure or relocating it to a new lot if the house has been approved by a structural engineer. Sometimes houses can be righted in their current location, but owners have to consider the impact of future storms, especially in an area that seems to be losing its beach at a rapid rate.
Creef has been in contact with the owner of the Black Pearl, who is researching the possibilities of relocation, but is still waiting to hear from the owner of the other house.
There are four other houses in this line of oceanfront houses that have been tagged as unsafe structures, which is a much lesser notice, and these houses are usually recertified. In most cases, these warnings are issued due to a more easily fixable problem, such as missing power lines, compromised septic systems, or lost access to the house.
One of these houses came off the list on Friday. Of the three remaining condemned houses, two have still not been fixed since the Veterans Day Storm in November, 2009, nearly two years ago.
On the soundside of Highway 12, the situation is much more complicated, leaving the homeowners, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Dare County uncertain on how to proceed.
“We are in uncharted territory,” say Creef. “We have never dealt with a situation like this.”
The inlet that was cut at Mirlo Beach created little waterways that continue to funnel water directly around these buildings. It destroyed the access road, which is privately owned, and put houses in various states of disrepair with one of them leaning seriously ever since the storm struck in late August.
Another one of the houses here was just moved to this presumed safer location a few months earlier from the oceanside, where it was in jeopardy with every storm or ocean swell.
Even today, all of these houses are still standing in a large deep pool of contaminated water that continues to damage them, especially when the wind blows from the west. The houses have no driveways or parking pads left.
“You just can’t get to the property,” says Creef.
Repairs can’t begin in this area until the flow of water is plugged, which is a situation that still hasn’t been resolved.
Last week, Don Devin, who heads the Mirlo Beach property owners’ association, met with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife management on Pea Island to discuss the water problem. There are two channels of water coming under the houses at Mirlo Beach from refuge property.
“It would be foolish to fill the hole until the water problem is solved,” says Devin.
He was hoping that Fish and Wildlife managers would have a solution to the problem, but they didn’t. Another meeting is scheduled between the homeowners’ association and the Pea Island managers for the end of the month. That meeting will include NCDOT and the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative.
“We have three transmission poles in the water on land we presume to be private property,” says Susan Flythe, general manager of the local electric co-op. “We have been invited to this meeting. We all have an interest.”
Donna Creef met with Don Devin last Friday at the site, but didn’t have much to offer. According to Creef, the county doesn’t do road maintenance, though the county is sympathetic to the problem.
“Donna was very informative but said that technically, the county cannot help us with this problem,” says Devin. “However, she said they will help with any future planning.”
If the homeowners don’t get help, Devin doesn’t know what will happen to these homes. He indicated that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to fill the massive hole once the flow of new water was stopped. That is just filling it and doesn’t include resurfacing the road or doing any house repairs.
Applying for help from the Small Business Administration is one avenue that can be investigated and FEMA is another. Insurance covers the buildings but not repair of the common area.
More than two months after the storm, this remains a complex issue that needs to be resolved before any repairs can begin.
The lost revenue in rental income for the homeowners has been staggering. With all the time that has been taken just assessing the damage, the 2012 season is looking uncertain for these rental houses.