NC - Why did the National Park Service buy threatened oceanfront homes on the Outer Banks?

Conservation grant funds were used buy the two homes to prevent another collapse and huge debris field along the national seashore. Could it be a model for other parts of the N.C. coast?

It's not a new story. Beachfront homes along the North Carolina coast about to fall into the Atlantic, and local officials and property owners looking for answers that won't leave them financially broke.

But two threatened oceanfront homes on the Outer Banks were recently purchased, and the buyer might surprise most people.

They weren't bought by speculators looking to make a quick buck, or folks hoping the beach in Rodanthe reverses its decades-long retreat and returns.

Instead, they were bought by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore using nonprofit conservation trust funds. But why would the federal government want to buy beachfront homes teetering on the edge? And could the approach used by the park service offer a way forward for other N.C. coastal communities and oceanfront property owners dealing with their own erosion woes?

Officials say what happened in Rodanthe should be seen as unique for a number of reasons. But that doesn't mean thinking outside-the-box isn't something other officials and locations should consider as funding for − and sand itself − for beach nourishment becomes harder to secure just as sea-level rise ramps up.

"It's another tool in the toolbox of creative solutions that we're going to have to start thinking about, because situations like this aren't going away anytime soon," said Alyson Flynn, a coastal advocate and environmental economist with the N.C. Coastal Federation.

A special situation

Rodanthe isn't a town itself, but an unincorporated village that's managed by the state and Dare County inland and by the national seashore along the ocean. That blend of jurisdictions, which can move monthly, weekly and even daily as the "wet beach" − which is public property − ebbs and flows with the tremendous erosion rates that section of the Outer Banks endures, can often lead to bureaucratic inertia and confusion over who is in charge.

But in this case, the involvement of the federal government opened up the involvement of a powerful, major player interested in not seeing another home come crashing down and potentially creating a miles-long debris field that could soil beaches well away from Rodanthe and prove dangerous for visitors, shorebirds and nesting sea turtles.

Since an oceanfront house in Rodanthe fell in February 2022, three others nearby have collapsed and numerous nearby structures along the eroded shoreline are also threatened. With Washington and Raleigh having made it clear that there would be no money coming anytime soon for a beach nourishment project and Dare County officials stating that the county's funding pool for beach-building work had all but run dry, many Rodanthe property owners were facing a tough future.

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