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Dare County manager tells Rodanthe residents there's no money to rebuild their beach

rodanthe houses nps.JPG
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
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Flickr
A photo shows a collapsed house on Ocean Drive in Rodanthe on May 10, 2022.

Residents on a stretch of North Carolina's Outer Banks where houses fell into the ocean last year want a beach replenishment project to protect additional homes and prevent flooding. But at a public meeting in Rodanthe Wednesday night, Dare County officials said there's no way to pay for it.

2020 Rodanthe Bridge.jpg
North Carolina Department of Transportation
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The Rodanthe Bridge under construction in 2020 in Pamlico Sound, looking toward Rodanthe. When the bridge opened last year, NCDOT stopped coastal improvements on the old Highway 12 and oceanfront.

Coastal erosion has long been a problem on Hatteras Island. For years, the state Department of Transportation kept the Atlantic Ocean at bay by pumping sand and rebuilding dunes along frequently eroded Highway 12. But with the opening of the Rodanthe Bridge last year, NCDOT has abandoned the road and stopped funding those sand and dune projects, Dare County manager Bobby Outten said.

"Until the bridge was done, DOT maintained protection of the road there. And by protecting the road, they protected the other ocean front. And so we put the money in places where DOT wouldn't protect and that were in danger," Outten told a virtual and in-person meeting.

A 10-year-old study estimated it would cost $20 million to rebuild and maintain Rodanthe beach, with replenishment every five years. Outten said it could cost $30 million or more now. Dare County has a beach renourishment fund, but Outten said it's maxed out.

The fund currently has only $6 million. He said tourism tax revenues that feed the fund are rising too slowly — it would take 60 years for it to be enough to pay for a Rodanthe beach renourishment project. Meanwhile, the local tax base is too small to use property taxes, he said.

Rising project costs are part of the problem. But so is climate change, which is speeding erosion, said coastal geologist Rob Young, who runs the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University.

"As long as sea level continues to rise, that assumption of needing sand every five years may not be a good one. I think they will be hard pressed to maintain the existing projects as well," Young said.

County officials said they would continue looking for options, including new federal funding in the Inflation Reduction Act and other aid bills. Officials urged residents to write to their state and federal representatives, though Outten warned that competition is heavy for federal money and it likely would go first to protect public infrastructure, not oceanfront properties.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
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