Spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a supposed long-term bridge bypass solution for the constantly eroding Pea Island in the Outer Banks is akin to planning heart replacement surgery on a sick patient instead of first trying to cure him/her of the underlying illness. Replacing the existing Bonner Bridge will stabilize the patient – the beleaguered residents of the Banks — and allow for plenty of saved money to be used to research a cure for the underlying erosion of Pea Island and the Banks in general. The end result will be renewed traffic flow through to Hatteras, a healthy Pea Island, and plenty of leftover money to spend toward additional conservation of the entire region.
It is no secret that the Outer Banks are eroding at an alarming rate. However, as this problem is largely man-made, namely the constant dredging of the Oregon Inlet, it is reversible. Specifically, every time there is a dredge, it sucks more and more coastline into the giant hole that is created. So to say this is all nature’s doing, deal with it, is absurd.
There are those who argue that money spent on the Outer Banks benefits tourists and a relative few North Carolina residents. What they fail to recognize is that barrier islands are just that–barriers. If the Outer Banks were to suddenly disappear, a large stretch of the main coastline – way more populous and built-up than the outer banks – would get smashed instead. The cost would not be in the millions, but many billions. Furthermore, the three million tourists who flock to the Outer Banks each year bring in significant tax revenue for the entire state.
Then there are those who consider our shorelines as playgrounds for the wealthy. While the coast is for sure a desirable place to live, save the entire U.S. going under water, there will always be a coastline regardless of who decides to live there. At some point we do literally have to draw a line in the sand and protect our shores from hurricanes the same way we routinely protect our houses from earthquakes or tornadoes. Restoring dune structures and the natural bathymetry of the ocean bottom through accretion engineering would not just stabilize the beaches, but also naturally dissipate strong wave energy, allowing sand to be deposited on shore, not be carried out to sea.
In 1999, geologist Richard L. Watson prepared a study for the state of Texas chronicling the enormous loss of sand from the Bolivar Peninsula off Galveston Bay resulting from the creation of the man-made Rollover Fish Pass. His recommendations to reverse this man-made problem, which concurred with ‘every scientific and engineering study for 40 years’, were ignored. In 2008, with nature’s defenses eroded away, Hurricane Ike knocked 99.5% of the structures off their foundations, destroying most of them. If we allow hundreds of millions to be spent on a long bypass bridge in the Outer Banks instead of on reversing erosion, in the near future the bridge may be the only structure left standing, leading to nowhere.
The Beach Recovery Foundation does not pretend to have all the answers. However, we do recognize that, like the Bolivar Peninsula, the Outer Banks are at a critical danger level where something needs to be done short-term, in addition, not instead of, something being planned for the long term. We also recognize that the Outer Banks is truly the first British Colony, not Jamestown, and therefore its value to US history, let alone the state of North Carolina, is priceless. We therefore truly cannot comprehend how any proud North Carolinian would ever want to see the Outer Banks fade into the sea-at least without a fight.