Letter to the Editor: A busy off season and a new influencer in Manteo

Published 1:30 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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To the Editor:

There’s been a lot going on down this way during the off season. Riding down the by-pass without swerving left and then right hasn’t been happening for what seems like quite a while. Seems like the towns are almost in competition with each other to see who can get the most done and in some cases form a perfect clog on both sides of the street. But hey, Target is opening in April, and the soon to be vacationers are getting their oil changes in anticipation of their two hour long wait on Route 12, or Dogwood Trail.

And meanwhile, while our roads are a little clogged in the off-season, they’ll be ready to go when the summer waves start a-rolling in. And from the looks of it, if you ride around a little, there’s quite a bit of new building going on, which the “cost” doesn’t seem to be holding anyone back, except perhaps when the proper influencers are involved.

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Before the blurs of summer begin and with the continued pace of growth, grab a tree branch with me and ask how does this special strip of sand continue to weather the extreme pace of unsustainable growth.? Sure, there’s money to be made but why not ease off the development gas pedal a little. Slow the growth, step back, take the longer view of what this very fragile environment needs. It’s time to be looking further than the next season while still complaining about no affordable housing and beach erosion. Fingers in the fragile dune dike are not going to hold off the rising sea waters.

And maybe change for the good is heading this way. In fact, at a recent open house, highlighted in the CT, the U.S. Rep for Dare County announced the opening of his new district office at “954 Marshall C. Collins Drive in Manteo, and declared it a “safe place.” As you would imagine, “local needs” were the key questions asked by the assembly of county leaders, and quick to get a future stake in the local sand, Chairman R. Woodard affirmed that the “state never put money into a (beach) nourishment fund …,” and further, “we’ve got to get some money into that fund. We can’t afford to jeopardize the $225 million already invested in beach nourishment projects.”

I think we’d all agree with Mr Woodard. We certainly wouldn’t want to waste that kind of local money.

The Representative for Eastern NC parried with the WATERS (Water Adaptations to Ensure Regional Success) and affirmed that this year’s focus would “concentrate on the barrier islands.” He even suggested “using funding from the state’s rainy day fund” as an option to mitigate any loss of blown in sand. He went further after Mr. Woodard said “we need other options” to strongly affirm that he is “not averse to hardened structures.” Maybe the “hardened structures” can be clarified in the WATERS meeting?

Hardened structures on the beach ironically came up again when government affairs director for OBX Realtors Donna Creef “asked about federal flood insurance that essentially requires oceanfront property owners to let houses fall in the ocean.” So on some of the beachfront we’re going to possibly get some “rainy day funds” while on some others the Feds will pay as was possible in the “Upton-Jones amendment…, adopted in 1988 and repealed in 1994.” As the CT mentioned this program paid “40% … to property owners to relocate structures and 100% of appraised value plus 10% to clean up the site,” if all hoops were jumped through.

Sounds like as the meeting went on the open house became open season when a member of the Government Affairs Committee of the Outer Banks Association of Realtors “voiced concern about the current administration’s interpretation of what constitutes ‘Waters of the United States’…, the interpretation puts ditches and creeks under federal jurisdiction.” Seems that the government affairs official for the OBX Association of Realtors would like to ensure that any ditch, creek, or open inland body of water is fair game for “development” and that the “durable definition of waters of the Waters of the United States” coming into effect on March 20, 2023 is contrary to what the prior administration “undid.”

The meeting seems to have devolved from this point into “the real swamp … (being reigned) in,” our “war with China,” and how high the “‘wall’ at the country’s southern border” should be. One should expect more from our Rep for Eastern NC, but it’s great that the developers got to guffaw with a fellow supporter who, given the right circumstances, would consider adding hardened structures to the beaches, possibly support the rejuvenation of a bill that paid for homes to fall in the water, and of course support the local “development teams” erecting homes on land that is already shrinking and being covered by rising sea levels.

One doesn’t have to look far to see the result of such development. The foundation stilts get higher, the trees get cut and the marshes altered, but the sand keeps getting pumped in. Let’s hope the representative for Eastern NC enjoys the Manteo area along with his offices in Greenville, Jacksonville, and New Bern and has time for lounging on the blown-in sand beaches so that he can help ensure there is ample room for all the umbrellas.

Russ Watkins
Southern Shores