The daily effects of winds, waves, and tides, along with rising seas and storms, have played a part in contributing to coastal erosion impacts at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, particularly adjacent to the villages of Rodanthe and Buxton, North Carolina. The effects of erosion in these villages have resulted in structures being present on the open beachfront or in the intertidal area which may result in reduced beach access and safety for visitors, a loss of habitat for shorebirds and sea turtles, and, sometimes, structure collapses on Seashore beaches, resulting in many miles of beach debris.
Threatened Oceanfront Structures
Privately-owned oceanfront houses adjacent to Seashore beaches are typical, elevated beach-style homes situated on pilings with a concrete driveway, parking pad, and septic systems. Many private properties adjacent to the beach in Rodanthe, which previously contained backyard land, dunes, and dry sand, are either partially or fully covered with ocean water on a regular basis. During severe weather events, which the Outer Banks of North Carolina experiences throughout the year, privately-owned oceanfront houses in vulnerable areas get battered by strong winds and large waves, leading to the collapse of four houses in recent years.
Structure Collapse Timeline
Since 2020, five privately-owned houses have collapsed on Seashore beaches. Four out of the five house collapses occurred over a 13-month period of time, including two collapses on the same day. Debris from the collapses was spotted more than 15 miles from the collapse site.
May 29, 2020: An unoccupied house collapsed during the overnight hours at 23238 Sea Oats Drive, Rodanthe.
February 9, 2022: On a calm winter day, an unoccupied house collapsed at 24183 Ocean Drive, Rodanthe.
May 10, 2022: During a multi-day nor'easter, an unoccupied house collapsed at 24235 Ocean Drive, Rodanthe. The collapsed occurred during the early morning hours.
May 10, 2022: During a multi-day nor'easter, an unoccupied house collapsed at 24265 Ocean Drive, Rodanthe. The collapse occurred during the early afternoon hours.
March 13, 2023: During inclement weather, an unoccupied house collapsed at 23228 East Point Drive, Rodanthe.
What's Been Done?
Following the first house collapse in 2022, the National Park Service has taken a variety of actions to help protect America's first national seashore and its visitors including:
Communications with owners of collapsed houses regarding the importance of removing debris from Seashore beaches. Unfortunately, owner-initiated cleanup efforts have not always adequately restored beaches, so the Seashore has supplemented cleanup activities and sought cost recovery for costs associated with additional beach restoration.
Implementation of closures around other threatened houses in Rodanthe to provide for visitor safety during severe weather events or as a result of rough surf conditions.
Cleanup of miles of beach debris associated with each house collapse.
In partnership with Dare County, communicated with dozens of owners of other threatened houses to relay concerns about the structural stability of pilings and decks and exposed septic tanks and wires. Owners of threatened structures were strongly urged to fix issues or relocate the house, if possible.
Hosted multiple public meetings regarding threatened oceanfront structures in Rodanthe.
Helped form the Threatened Oceanfront Structures Interagency Work Group. The work group was established in August 2022 to engage with partner organizations and stakeholders to identify, research, and recommend policy and/or program improvements to establish more proactive, comprehensive, and predictable strategies for addressing structures at immediate risk of collapse.
The Seashore recently purchased two threatened oceanfront properties and associated structures in Rodanthe. Thanks to the National Park Trust for their assistance and funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, properties at 23292 and 23298 East Beacon Road were purchased for fair market value using zero taxpayer dollars. Fair market value was determined by a certified appraiser and the Department of the Interior's Appraisal and Valuation Services Office.
The purchase of the two properties on East Beacon Road was pursued for the following reasons:
To mitigate the ongoing impacts of having threatened oceanfront structures impact visitor safety, public health, and wildlife habitat at the Seashore.
To assist threatened oceanfront structure owners that do not have viable options to move the structures or promptly remove debris following potential collapse.
To restore the beach and make the sites a public beach access where visitors from the surrounding community can walk onto the Seashore beach areas without walking through private properties.
To remove the structures or have the ability to respond to their collapse and clean up debris in a much quicker manner; thereby, minimizing impacts to park areas and visitors.
To evaluate the feasibility of a larger program.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is used to acquire lands, waters, and interested therein necessary to achieve the natural, cultural, wildlife, and recreation management objectives of the National Park Service. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the Land and Water Conservation Fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve our history, and protect our national endowment of lands and waters.
The Seashore on Nov. 7, 2023, hired W.M. Dunn Construction, LLC (contractor) from Powell's Point, North Carolina, for $72,500 to remove threatened structures from the two properties and restore the beach.
On Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, the contractor began removing the house at 23292 East Beacon Road.
On Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, the contractor began removing the house at 23298 East Beacon Road.
On Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, the project to remove both houses concluded and the adjoining lots were opened for the public to enjoy. Seashore staff took a Nov. 30 photo of the cleared beach.