Gilbert M. Gaul, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the book The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas and the Cost of America’s Coasts, offers this assessment of coastal development that shows some folks do not seem to know when to stop:
Shifting Sands: Carolina’s Outer Banks Face a Precarious Future
Despite the risks of building on barrier islands, developers kept constructing homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Now, as sea level rises and storms become more frequent and powerful, the famed vacation spot is fighting an increasingly difficult battle to keep from washing away.
Rounding the corner near the village of Rodanthe, there is a stretch of highway known as the S-Curves because of its twisting loops and turns. It is, by almost any measure, one of the most vulnerable sections of roadway in North Carolina, if not the nation. Years ago, highway officials erected a massive dike here with 2,200 sandbags — each bag was 15 feet long, two feet tall, and five feet wide — and then buried the dike in even more sand in an effort to keep the ocean at bay and the highway, known as NC 12, open.
It didn’t work, or at least it didn’t work as hoped. The Atlantic Ocean continued to pummel the towering artificial dune, crashing over the top, tearing apart sandbags, and flooding the highway — closing the only access on and off of the lower Outer Banks for days and sometimes weeks.
Following each storm, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) sent in bulldozers and graders to rebuild the sand dike and patch the road, only to watch the next storm undo its work. “It’s like the Siege of Troy,” said local biologist Mike Bryant. “It just goes on and on.”
Bryant managed the nearby Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge — a sprawling, 13-mile-long sanctuary that attracts tundra swans, Canadian geese, and 400 other species of migrating birds for two decades. He estimated that he spent 60 percent of his time on NC 12, including issuing permits to state and federal engineers to repair storm damage and severely eroding sand dunes. “It felt exhausting at times,” he said…
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