Two houses that collapsed May 10, 2022, are shown in this Cape Hatteras National Seashore photo from the previous day.

NC - Solutions are few for imperiled oceanfront homes: Panel

RODANTHE — It’s been more than a year since the first oceanfront house, standing on an eroded beach within Cape Hatteras National Seashore, collapsed into the ocean in the early morning on Feb. 9.

Two more nearby houses fell in May. Each time, tons of construction debris — jagged, sharp, toxic, ugly — were carried for miles by wind and surf into the sea and along the beach.

Although the privately owned houses in Rodanthe, a small Hatteras Island village, were left by erosion teetering on the public beach, local, state and federal officials have been stymied by gaps in laws and a lack of funding options to prevent other houses from being swallowed by the Atlantic.

Special Report: Houses on the Edge

“I don’t believe that anyone really wants to see structures end up all the way out on the public beach, including the property owners,” Braxton Davis, director of the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, told 46 attendees during a virtual workshop held Monday to share information and discuss solutions on threatened oceanfront houses, some of which obstruct the surf zone with their damaged decks and exposed septic tanks.

“They’re creating some impacts to aquatic species and shorebirds and their habitats, and they’re interfering with public use of the beach,” Davis said. “And unfortunately, in some cases, really no action is taken or available until after a house collapses and results in significant marine debris and additional impacts and costs.”

Hosted by Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the division, which is part of the state Department of Environmental Quality, six members of the interagency work group, including co-chairs Davis and Hallac, addressed the topic “Property Acquisition and Financial Assistance.”

In the first of the four workshops planned for the year, other participants were Bill Holman, North Carolina director of The Conservation Fund; Bobby Outten, Dare County manager and attorney; Gavin Smith, professor at North Carolina State University’s Department of Landscape, Architecture and Environmental Planning; Tancred Miller, sections chief for the division’s policy and planning; and Heidi Stiller, South regional director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office for Coastal Management.

The group was established in August 2022 to determine, along with partners and stakeholders, policies and programs to “establish a proactive, holistic, predictable, and coordinated approach to erosion-threatened structures and to ensure that appropriate regulatory, legal, insurance, and financial mechanisms exist,” according to a division press release. The meeting Monday was its first open to the public and press.

But Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, cautioned that the task force’s initial discussion is part of a process to determine what questions to ask and where to direct them, rather than resolve every issue.

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