Federal agencies face the public on Buxton beach contamination

Published 12:36 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Representatives of three federal agencies took to the gymnasium floor at Buxton’s Fessenden Center on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 to brief the public on the contamination on three-tenths of a mile of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Buxton.

The meeting, called by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, featured Colonel Ronald Sturgeon and Glenn Marks from the Army Corps Savannah District, Dave Hallac, superintendent of the National Parks in Eastern North Carolina, and U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina commander Tim List.

Robert L. Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, introduced Sturgeon. Five Dare commissioners were present for the meeting, which drew around 65 people, comfortably filling the bleachers and several rows of folding chairs.

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Sturgeon said the Army Corps had acted quickly once authorization and funding was available to examine an erosion-exposed pipe with petroleum residue and test surrounding sand for contaminants. A contractor was hired and showed up two days later.

That contractor is SLSCO, with headquarters in Galveston, Texas, and nine other offices in the United States. The subcontractor is Forgen, from Rocklin, Calif. Shawn Dillon is Forgen’s senior construction manager. Allocated for remediation is $525,000, but no bill was presented as of May 14, 2024.

During his initial remarks, Sturgeon said if contaminated sand is found, “we will remediate.”

Sturgeon acknowledged the overall frustration of the public, individual speakers and Dare’s commissioners. He said, later in the meeting, that the action was not good between September 2023, when petroleum was reported on the beach, and currently. “It could have been faster.”

The affected Buxton area was labeled a Formerly Used Defense Site in 1986, said Marks, who leads the Formerly Use Defense Site program in the Savannah District. He said sample testing will take 10 days before results are available. He promised to release the data.

As a Formerly Use Defense Site, authorization and funding can only be used for environmental remediation, which makes the existence of building infrastructure in Buxton problematic.

Hallac made a very brief remark, stating that the National Park Service was “looking for complete remediation of the site.”

During questioning, Heather Jennette with the Buxton Civic Association asked Sturgeon “if not you, who?”

Sturgeon said the Army Corps would have to receive direct funding from Congress to clean up the site.

Hallac commented that he would “not stop working until debris is removed … There’s a lot of debris under the sand. The United States Coast Guard did not use those buildings.”

Hallac reported that he is working with the Coast Guard to remove the septic systems.

At least a dozen people signed up or stood up to speak and ask questions without time limitation. Those speakers are Aida Havel, Heather Jennette, Al Adam with the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, Brent Liner, Jason Forest, Trip Forman, Michael Tripp, Lou Browning, Willie Munden, Susan Sigmon, Jason Hall and Hyatt Busbey.

Tripp and Sigmon are homeowners along Old Lighthouse Road. Tripp’s house address was used in the original release about the closure and has since been removed. For this season, he has no rental income.

Sigmon said “I am freaked out.” She is three-tenths of a mile from ground zero. She asked for a timeline.

The Buxton Civic Association takes the position just like Hallac’s: complete remediation for the Formerly Use Defense Site.