HATTERAS ISLAND: Outer Banks business owners worry about future - WNCN: News, Weather

Outer Banks business owners worry about future of Hatteras Island

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HATTERAS ISLAND, N.C. -

The Outer Banks are a place that many like to vacation, but some ocean front properties are in danger of closing because of beach erosion.

Hatteras Island is one area in desperate need of sand. For those who live on the island, the beautiful life has become a nightmare.

"You can't just leave us on a barrier island unprotected for 41 years… this is what it looks like, this is what happens," said Carol Dawson, a business owner on the island.

Dawson was born and raised in Buxton on Hatteras Island and enjoys bringing her family there. She and her husband own the Cape Hatteras Motel. When they bought the place, they were 600 feet from the ocean.

"It's hard to put your life into something but, we've been battling here at the Cape Hatteras Motel, the Atlantic Ocean for 41 years,” said Dawson.

And more recently, they’ve been forced to close two of their three buildings because the water keeps getting closer, washing away the foundation of their future.

"You can see where the waves have hit these buildings repeatedly and every time we dig out we think okay, maybe a nourishment plan will come and we'll be able to have our business. It's been 41 years and repeated storms," said Dawson.

Residents who live on the island held a rally earlier this year, asking for sand to be returned to their beaches. But that move comes with a hefty price tag.

"And we're tapped out, we can't burrow anymore and we are very much risking our life's worth, not only to the ocean but, to the damage that keeps coming repeatedly,’ Dawson said.

Neighboring hotels aren’t feeling the pinch as bad, but say it’s only a matter of time.

"Well we've had some erosion that's been going on for a number of years. There's a few really hot spots now and we're just hoping to buy enough time to get some beach nourishment,’ said John Hooper, Owner of the Lighthouse View Motel.

And time is something locals on the island don’t have a lot of. Orrin Pilkey, a marine geologist, has studied the North Carolina coast for most of his life.

"The average wave height in the Outer Banks, especially when you get near the lighthouses, is the highest on the East Coast on average, except for parts of Maine," said Pilkey.

Pilkey adds that these beaches’ days are numbered because of the dredging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering is doing in the Oregon Inlet, which is about 38 miles north of Hatteras Island.

"Hopper dredging is taking away sand from Hatteras Island and increases the rate of erosion," Pilkey said.

WNCN reached out the Army Corps of Engineering for a response and they said their dredging is not hurting Hatteras Island, in fact they said, “Our dredging does not hurt the beach, but actually improves it.

The beach in Buxton has not received sand in decades and elected officials agree it needs an improvement

"We're managing it, we're dealing with it, we're here. It's just like you, if you get sick, you manage your health, you go to a doctor. Right now we have a sick beach, we've got to work together and find a cure for it," said Warren Judge, Dare County Commissioner.

Judge said beach nourishment could be the cure to bring sand back to the beaches, but there are several beaches in need.

"We've got three critical areas before we get to Buxton and then as we leave south of Buxton as we head to Frisco and Hatteras we have another hot spot, just east of Hatteras Village," said Judge.

And the beach nourishment project could be years away.

"If we could start the permitting process tomorrow, I would say realistically, realistically sand on the beach summer of 2017,” said Judge.

But that could be too long for some business owners.

"That's an awful long time, I will say that, but, it's the only way really that I know of, that we'll survive long term,” said Hooper.

Erosion of property is one thing but, business owners agree, erosion cutting a new inlet would be catastrophic for the entire island.

With the prime vacation season getting closer, the owners of the Cape Hatteras Motel estimate they’ve already lost $45,000. They said if a new inlet forms now, they’ll go bankrupt.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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