Anyone who lives along the Outer Banks of North Carolina or follows news stories concerning the are via Facebook or Twitter knows of the recent travel difficulties plaguing a vast stretch of NC 12. NC 12, the road which stretches the banks from Corolla down through the island of Ocracoke, has seen great problems from ocean overwash in the last week or so, particularly around the town of Rodanthe. Many residents along this area of the banks can only scratch their heads and ponder the question, is there a permanent solution to this seemingly omnipresent threat? The reasoning behind the answer to that question is complex yet the answer itself is quite simple, no.
Since the Outer Banks of North Carolina have existed, the overwashing of the barrier island by the ocean has been occurring. In fact, the ocean breaching the dunes and overwashing part of the island is somewhat beneficial to the widening of a barrier island system. The ocean overtaking the island does not become a problem until it affects humans, plain and simple. Given that it has, it has become a major source of headaches for those living on the banks. It almost seems as if overwash on NC 12 is something that can be counted on at least a two or three times a year, and as dependable as the sun rising in the east. The first significant overwash event of 2013 came just about a week ago, thanks to a deep coastal low that brewed off of the Carolina coast, bringing major flooding to NC 12 and major snow to parts of the Northeast. The mighty Atlanitc covered NC 12 with with water a foot deep in some parts, leaving residents and vactioners stranded. This nuisance however, is something that has grown common along this stretch of NC 12, particularly in recent years. The public, it seems, has finally become fed up with this problem and has organized a series of meetings with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, to discuss the possibility of permanent solutions to overwash events.
The first idea one must accept before approaching any means of deterring the ocean is that no "solution" will be permanent, case and point. Proposals for new dunes, as mentioned in the recent environmental assesment released by NCDOT (http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/bonnerbridgephase2/download/B2500PhaseIIaEA_Pea_Island_Inlet.pdf)
would be subject to the same fate as those made by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early 20th century. The second realization one must come to is the the ocean is rising and the Outer Banks are migrating, as many barrier island systems do to maintain island height, width, and existance. Houses built two or three decades ago that were once 50 yards from the surf zone are now submerged in it, serving as a witness to the power of the ever-changing Atlantic Ocean. The third concept that needs to be observed is that throughout and after this process, not everyone will be happy. Conservationists will cry foul when essential wetlands are destroyed in order to accomodate construction and locals who depend on NC 12 will do likewise if nothing is done to protect their source of livlihood.
So, acknowledging the fact that not everyone will be happy, what can be done to preserve the pristinity of the banks while still ensuring a route of transportation for those who call the banks their home? This question is quite complex and I am unsure as to whether or not it has a clear cut answer. Building new dunes will be prolonging the inevitable, and is the last thing many locals would want to hear. Building a bridge on the sound side of the road would be a tremendous expense and it is easy to forsee many environmental impacts associated with it. For now, I suggest a period of dune stabilization projects, holding the sea back until suggestions are evaluated. Perhaps in the future, stretches of NC 12 would be abandoned until the island itself recovers and widens, allowing the construction of a new road. Whatever the outcome is, I am sure of two things. One, someone will not like it. And two, it will only be a temporary solution to an ever-present problem.