This photo taken at the north end of Ocracoke shows the extent of erosion and damage to the stacking lanes at South Dock. The white wall along the upper edge of the land is the bulkhead that protects the ferry basin where the dock is located. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Connie Leinbach

A Sediment Management Framework signed in May by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore will help speed beach repair work along the 70 plus miles from Pea Island to Ocracoke.

Dave Hallac, National Parks of Eastern North Carolina superintendent, said in a recent press briefing that this plan will help in future emergencies—when the islands encounter severe, storm-related breeches, such as overwash at the north end of N.C. 12 by Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and, more recently, Hurricane Teddy last September.

Although it was well offshore, Teddy created wave swells that breached N.C. 12 on Ocracoke and Hatteras and stranded dozens of island visitors on Hatteras for days.

“The sea level is rising at more than five millimeters per year in Oregon inlet,” he said, “and the best available science that we have indicates that that rapid rate of change will increase over time, thereby making erosion and a lot of other stresses caused by the ocean much more severe, and potentially in need of certain mitigation measures like beach nourishment.”

In the past, when the National Park Service (NPS) has received a request for special use permits to alter the Seashore beaches, that process typically took 12 to 18 months.

“Historically, whether there were island breeches from storms like Hurricane Irene, or requests from Dare County like the Buxton beach nourishment project, approving these projects took time,” Hallac said. “But our partners (need) to protect critical areas of the park, such as Highway 12, or the water line, or we may be working with CHEC and they’ll need to protect the transmission corridor. Now we have a checklist instead of a (lengthy) permit process.”

The NPS’s Sediment Management plan will help speed the deployment of such dune shoring measures as these sandbags along the north end of N.C. 12 on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

This new plan, which will be in place for 20 years, is proactive: It has done all the studies and gives the NPS the ability to rapidly provide permission for beach nourishment, implementation of habitat restoration projects, dune restoration, or emergency bridge repairs, and often within days.

Over the last two decades, erosion has dramatically changed the shorelines of Ocracoke and Hatteras, and these changes can severely damage essential infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electrical transmission facilities, etc.

“We know the beaches (here) are eroding quite quickly,” Hallac said. “We have rates of erosion that are 10 to 20 feet per year.”

About 13 miles of Hatteras and Ocracoke are omitted from the plan, such as the area from Ramp 72 to South Point, because there are no roads or infrastructure in these areas.

Hallac said bolstering the southern end of Hatteras Island because of climate change and sea level rise is crucial.

Erosion at the end of Hatteras. NPS photo

So, the Park Service is talking with the Army Corps of Engineers about potentially using beneficial dredged material from dredging areas around Hatteras Inlet and placing it in areas around the southern end of Hatteras. This would provide habitat for nesting shorebirds, sea turtles and other wildlife.

“The purpose of this plan is not just to allow (beach repair) activities to occur,” Hallac said. “It’s really to protect your National Seashore, that when (beach repair) occurs it protects cultural resources–everything from shipwrecks to submerged archaeological resources, to protect human health and safety, and to ensure that the new beaches that might be created as a result of sediment management are done in a way that those new habitats are useful and appropriate for wildlife and for human enjoyment.”