Coastal management staff to draft revised septic setbacks

By on September 16, 2022

By Trista Talton |

Surf breaks against an exposed septic tank off Ocean Drive in Rodanthe, Friday, March 4. (Photo: Justin Cook)

WILMINGTON – State rules on where septic tanks can be located on oceanfront properties are likely to change in the coming months.

The North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission Thursday gave the green light to Division of Coastal Management Director Braxton Davis to move ahead with proposed changes to existing rules, including setbacks and permit requirements.

Davis indicated those recommendations will include clarifying that an oceanfront property owner must obtain a permit in order to place a septic tank displaced by a storm or tide event back in its original location.

The proposed amendments would prohibit septic tanks from being placed seaward of the first line of oceanfront vegetation. Davis will present recommended changes at the commission’s November meeting.

Discussions have been taking place for months as to how federal, state and local governments can address a problem coastal experts say is only going to get worse with rising seas and climate change.

In February, encroaching waves toppled three oceanfront homes in Rodanthe, leaving debris strewn for miles along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“Even when houses don’t collapse they are constantly shedding debris due to the wrath of high tides and the ocean,” Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac said at the commission’s quarterly meeting Thursday in Wilmington.

As he spoke, he scrolled through pictures on a large projector capturing the aftermath of the homes that collapsed in early February, a time in which there were no coastal storms.

The destruction left a debris field stretching about 15 miles on the national seashore, where everything from fiberglass shards, tens of thousands of roofing tiles, drywall, carpet and other construction materials littered the beach. “Even the kitchen sink, which is meant to be a bit of a joke, but it’s not,” Hallac said, referencing a photograph of a sink on the sand.

Though property owners paid for a contractor to clean the debris, the park has had to dig into its coffers to pay for cleanup. The park purchased a $40,000 beach rake, which is being used this week to pull materials off the beach.

The debris has affected access to the national shore. People have been injured by stepping on boards and nails. Surfers and swimmers have been hit by debris floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

More than 3 million people visited the Cape Hatteras National Seashore last year, the highest number on record, Hallac said. Nearly 160,000 people used the parks’ overnight campgrounds and 55,000 beach driving permits were issued.

Along with the problem of debris left behind from collapsed homes are septic tanks that have been exposed and relocated by waves.

Hallac shared with the commission that during an interview with a New York Times reporter following the collapse of a Buxton home in May, an exposed septic tank broke open.

“We actually had to leave the area because the smell was so bad,” he said.

Though Hurricane Earl was 830 miles off Rodanthe’s coast last weekend, churning waves exposed a newly installed septic system, which broke open and discharged raw, untreated sewage on the beach throughout the night.

“This is not an uncommon event and it does not take a significant storm to cause these problems,” Hallac said. “This is a problem that is likely to become more significant. We are dealing with significant issues from sea level rise.”

A 1986 survey found that more than 700 oceanfront structures in the state at that time faced short-term erosion risk, Davis said.

While many of those homes are gone, the numbers are about the same today.

Davis said that North Carolina has some of the strongest oceanfront setbacks in the country. Coastal rules dictate that the bigger the structure, the farther away from the ocean it must be built.

“Even with really strong oceanfront setbacks we’re going to end up over time with houses on the beach,” he said.

Permits issued by the division or local governments must include a condition that a private home be moved within two years after it becomes imminently threatened.

That rule has not been enforced, Davis said, because natural beach recovery, beach renourishment, or permitted temporary sandbag structures typically occur within that time period.

Davis said the rule lacks clarity and is challenging to implement because of frequent changes in property ownership and worries about litigation.

The sea level is predicted to rise between 10 to 14 inches by 2050. Moderate flooding events are expected to increase tenfold by that time.

Hallac said some progress is being made as officials work with the owners of 24 homes in Rodanthe. Four homes had been relocated — the latest moved Wednesday — and permitting was underway to move another two.

Local, state and federal officials have been working together to get homes threatened by the ocean moved before they crumble into the sea.

The Division of Coastal Management, National Park Service and Dare County officials recently formed an interagency group to determine the authority of federal and state agencies to take protective actions on their jurisdictional shoreline.

The working group is to lay out a variety of immediate and long-term solutions to solving the problems facing some oceanfront properties and the communities they’re in.

“We need partners in thinking it through,” Davis said. “We’re talking about something that’s not going away. Coastwide, we’re going to see it.”

The group is discussing ways to educate homeowners, looking at the inventory of parcels that may be available for relocated homes, real estate disclosure requirements and the liability of property owners.

“It’s a situation from which I see no escape,” Commission Chair Renee Cahoon said.



Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Browny Douglas

    I have had a boat in the water since 1960. I disagree that there is sea level rise. However, there is significant encroachment.
    Browny Douglas

    Friday, Sep 16 @ 7:20 pm
  • blindeye

    good luck with that….realtors and tax revenue will not allow this to happen on Hatteras Island….just make them relocate or remove the problem homes….everytime these homes fall into the ocean all the heavy materials are covered by sand …washers . dryers ,heating units anything that does not float sinks …that rake will not solve that problem… thanks OBX

    Saturday, Sep 17 @ 8:30 am
  • Hannah West

    That photo is insane

    Sunday, Sep 18 @ 9:47 pm