One of two threatened oceanfront structures was demolished on Wednesday afternoon, November 15, as part of an initiative by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) to remove imperiled homes before they collapse into the ocean.
There have been four home collapses in the Rodanthe vicinity since 2022, with the most recent occurring in March 2023. When these unexpected collapses happen, they create a debris field that can extend for miles, requiring weeks of clean-up and possible beach closures to remove all unsafe materials. After March’s home collapse, an estimated 70 truckloads of debris was removed from the northern Hatteras Island shoreline.
Wednesday’s demolition was therefore a proactive event, as an effort to remove these unoccupied structures before they become an area-wide problem.
Thanks to assistance from the National Park Trust and funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the two Rodanthe homes were purchased for fair market value by CHNS in October 2023, at no cost to the taxpayer.
There are an estimated 12 homes in the Rodanthe region that are in danger of collapsing during a future nor’easter or storm, and CHNS is looking at whether there are avenues to purchase and remove other structures in the future.
“By removing these homes, it allows us to protect the resources of the Seashore, and to restore the beauty of the [beach] area,” said David Hallac, Superintendent of National Parks of Eastern NC.
“These first two homes are a bit of a pilot project,” he added. “We’ll learn from it, and then we’ll be sitting down with our partners including the National Park Trust and others, and look at whether or not it makes sense to [purchase and demolish more], and if so, determine the next steps.”
After the initial acquisition of the two properties, CHNS hired W.M. Dunn Construction, LLC from Powells Point, N.C., to conduct the demolition of both structures and restore the surrounding beach for a cost of $72,500. The endeavor includes removing the buildings themselves, as well as the septic tanks and pilings, and will take up to 30 days to complete from the date of the November 7 contract.
On Wednesday, multiple precautions were put into place to ensure that the purposeful home demolition wouldn’t lead to excess debris, or contamination of the surrounding shoreline.
“Before we got started on the project, we did some testing to determine that there was no asbestos or lead in the homes,” said Hallac. “Once that was clear, the contractor went in to remove other hazardous materials, like some of the gases that are associated with the HVAC system, and also the refrigerants that are in the refrigerator, and they took some of the appliances out as well.”
Windows were also removed to avoid fragmented glass, and the site was roped off to protect curious beachgoers. National Park Service staff were also on standby in case the demolition didn’t go as planned, but the work proceeded without issues.
Once all the initial debris is cleared, the contractor will then rake the shoreline to remove any tiny materials that may still remain.
“Ideally, when this project is completed, this will be just a pristine and restored natural [beach],” said Hallac. “And the beauty of all is that as it becomes National Park Service property, so you will now be able to walk from anywhere in the village down the beach.
“Certainly, people were doing that before, but they were technically walking through somebody’s front yard.”
The home that was demolished on Wednesday was located at 23292 East Beacon Drive in Rodanthe, and was built in 1985. The roughly 1,588-square-foot structure had been unoccupied since around 2021, which is when it was also purchased by the most recent homeowner.
The two homes that are being demolished are two of the structures in Rodanthe that are closest to the ocean and therefore in the most danger, and if additional demolitions follow suit, they will be prioritized by proximity to the ocean, and the likelihood of collapse.
“I think everybody is aware that we have many threatened oceanfront structures, either on the boundary – or in some cases – within the boundary of Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” said Hallac. “We’ve actually come up with a prioritization system so that if it comes to future purchases, we’ll know which ones should be [removed] first.”
The second home, located next door at 23298 East Beacon Drive, will be demolished in the next several weeks, after the site of the first structure has been cleared. All removal work is expected to be completed by December 7, 2023.
Video from Brad Hanson
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