Two threatened houses torn down

Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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On cold day with a northeast wind blowing, a group of National Park Service rangers and maintenance people, journalists and W.M. Dunn Construction workers waited on the Rodanthe beach for the arrival of a big excavator with a hydraulic thumb.

A 1 p.m. on Wednesday, November 15, the big machine came up the dune and went to work, pulling down the stairs to a two-story structure on Beacon Road East in Rodanthe.

Dunn folks went to work with chainsaws, cutting out the “x” braces and then came along to notch the pilings on the west side of the house.

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Around 2 p.m., a small excavator started pulling on cables going through a window on the second floor and out a hole below the floor joists.

The house swayed but did not fall. The big excavator moved into action and pushed from the south side of the house, which just sat down on the sandy beach not in the ocean water.

The demolition was timed with low tide, though it seemed the ocean water was actively climbing up the beach.

The big excavator immediately started clawing at the south side of the house to break the debris into smaller pieces. Wooden mats were placed on the dune and beach sand so the material could be hauled away.

Around noon on Thursday, the process was repeated with the second house, except that house had clusters of three pilings so the big excavator broke the pilings.

Almost all of the debris was removed when the seven-person Dunn crew left on Thursday. A crew returned on Friday to finish with the debris pick-up.

The crews returned Monday, Nov. 20, 2023 to pull out the septic systems, something that is not routinely done when a house goes into the Atlantic Ocean.

“We are pleased with the work progress,” reported David Hallac, superintendent of the National Parks in Eastern North Carolina.

The only cost to the National Park Service is the demolition and cleanup. The contract with W.M. Dunn Construction cost $72,500.

The National Park Service – along with a host of other government agencies – is wrestling with the issue of privately-owned oceanfront houses adjacent to the seashore. Since 2022, four privately-owned houses have collapsed on the national seashore beaches. Three houses have collapsed on Ocean Drive, south of the Rodanthe Pier and one house collapsed on East Point Drive, north of the Rodanthe roundabout. All four houses were unoccupied at the time of the collapses. The debris fields spread for 15 miles southward.

This particular event is a pilot project. The purchase of the houses was financed by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives $900 million yearly from offshore oil and gas leasing. The local park service also turned to the National Park Trust for assistance.

The two houses were appraised. The owners were willing to sell. The demolition went forward.

The project removes impacts to visitor safety, public health and wildlife habitat; assists homeowners that do not have viable options to move structures or cleanup debris; and restores public beach access.

The question is whether the project can be scaled upward to take action on the 15 or so threatened houses that have ocean water running under them at high tide and during storms.