Buxton beach needs help

Published 12:48 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

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Dare County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution on March 4, 2024 titled “Resolution requesting immediate action to rectify the discharge of oil into the Atlantic Ocean and adjoining shoreline, remove derelict infrastructure and restore the Buxton Beach Access site to its pre-military condition to protect the environment and public health and safety.”

The title is in all capitals and in bold print which is normal. This headline, though, screams with frustration and clearly states what the commissioners want: clean up the site.

The Buxton Beach Access is at the end of Old Lighthouse Road in Buxton with access to the ocean on one side of the road and parking and portable bathrooms on the other side.

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The 32.82 acre-site, according to Dare’s GIS, functioned as a base for the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1982. The Navy operated an undersea surveillance station from the site. Two years after the Navy left, the U.S. Coast Guard moved in.

When a special use permit was issued to the U.S Navy, the permit stated that the agency “shall remove all structures, foundations, and pavements, and clean up and restore the site prior to or immediately following termination of use.”

The U.S. Coast Guard operated under a memorandum of understanding. That document was conditioned “upon removing all improvements and restoring the site to park land upon ceasing operations.”

A statement on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s webpage for the Buxton Beach Access states the national seashore “is also proud that for 26 years, America’s first national seashore hosted … a military facility that played an essential role in tracking Soviet submarine movements and provided valuable intelligence to the U.S. Navy.”

But now, incomplete restoration is showing up on the Buxton beach including construction debris, building foundations and septic systems along with a pervasive and strong odor of petroleum.

Since 2004, the groundwater has been monitored. The samples consistently show petroleum hydrocarbon contamination.

In late summer 2023, a couple of storms rapidly eroded the beach access area, exposing hazardous infrastructure and strong smell of petroleum.

On Sept. 1, 2023, the beach from 46285 Old Lighthouse Road (the last house before the Buxton Beach Access) to and including the first jetty was closed.

On Sept. 25, 2023, a precautionary public health advisory was issued by Dare County and North Carolina departments of health and human services, the national seashore, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The advisory instructed the public to “avoid swimming, wading or fishing in the area …”

On Feb. 13, 2024, surfer Brett Barley wrote on Facebook “Last weekend when the ocean was calm and when we paddled out, you could see the sheen all over the water … Diesel Fuel everywhere! The smell became so potent it was as if you were at a gas station. This is happening in a NATIONAL PARK, and our HOME! I returned home with my Face smelling like Diesel (luckily that was the only thing exposed due to my wetsuit covering the rest) … this should not be an issue that drags on. There is zero reason real action could not have been taken over the last 6 months to begin to rectify the situation …”

Federal agencies are involved in seeking solutions. However, in the case of the Army Corps, a process must be followed to gain access to funds for remediation.

County manager Robert L. Outten called the process “excruciatingly slow.”

Meanwhile, Dare’s Health and Human Services and Public Relations departments are gearing up a campaign to inform visitors about the closed beach to protect the health and safety of the visiting public.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners resolution was forwarded to 27 individuals in various elected offices and federal agencies. Later in the month of March, a delegation from the commissioners will journey to Washington, D.C. to press the need for action.

Those who have experienced the smell of fuel, or been covered in it by going in the water, should call the National Response Center to file a report at 1-800-424-8802 with the date, time, location and what was seen or smelled.

These are the individuals to whom the Dare County resolution was sent:

State and federal officials

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

Congressman Greg Murphy

U.S. Senator Ted Budd

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

Michael S. Regan, administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Jeaneanne Gettle, acting regional director, Environmental Protection Agency

Elizabeth S. Biser, secretary, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

National Park Service

David Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, Manteo

Michael Barber, public relations, National Park Service, Manteo

Mark Foust, regional director for the South Atlantic-Gulf

Charles Sams, NPS director

Frank Lands, NPS deputy director

U.S. Coast Guard

CDR Colleen Symansky, USCG, commanding officer, Cleveland Ohio

CAPT John Berry, USCG, commander, Shore Infrastructure Logistics Center, Norfolk, Va.

RADM Amy Grable, USCG, commandant (CG-4), U.S. Coast Guard, Washington, DC

CAPT Tim List, USCG, commander, Sector North Carolina

RADM Shannon Gilreath, USCG commander Fifth Coast Guard District, Portsmouth, Va.

VADM Kevin E. Lunday, USCG commander, Atlantic Area, Portsmouth, Va.

Admiral Linda Fagan, commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, Washington, D.C.

Michael Lanes and Andrew Jacot, USCG

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Carl Dokter, Cheri Dragos-Pritchard, Colonel Ronald Sturgeo, Colonel Brad A. Morgan, Lieutenant General Scott A. Spellmon

It was also sent to Johnny Tillett, senior vice president, state government relations, McGuireWoods Consulting LLC.