‘We need better answers’

By on February 28, 2023

Working group looks at options for threatened oceanfront homes

Bobby Outten and Braxton Davis at the Feb. 27 Threatened Oceanfront Interagency Work Group meeting.

In the first of a series of four planned meetings by the Threatened Oceanfront Interagency Work Group, Dave Hallac, supervisor of Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS), welcomed online listeners to the Feb. 27 discussion and outlined the complexity of the issues facing coastal communities, where homes are threatened by storms, water and beach erosion.

“If you’re on this call, and you’re expecting all the answers…we’re not going to have all the answers. But part of the process of having this discussion is to determine where we need more answers. We need better answers, and we need to develop better programs,” he said.

The panelists discussing the options available to coastal communities included Dare County Manager Bobby Outten; Gavin Smith, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at North Carolina State University (NCSU); Bill Holman, North Carolina Director of The Conservation Fund; Heidi Stiller South Regional Director for NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management; and Tancred Miller, Policy and Planning Section Chief at the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management.

Although much of the discussion focused on funding issues, that was part of a larger conversation looking for ways to address endangered structures, beach nourishment and the ongoing threat of severe storms.

“Are there outside the box or new funding ideas that local or state governments or the federal government should be exploring?” Hallac asked in his opening remarks.

The discussion at one point focused on whether it would be possible to apply relocation strategies being developed for towns subject to river flooding, where properties would be moved out of the flood zone. NCSU’s Smith acknowledged that coastal communities were very different than inland towns, but wondered if there was some part of that concept that could be applied.

“Do they have some land on the mainland?” Smith wondered. To that point, Outten noted that “when you start talking about managed retreat, we do not have a mainland to retreat to.  “We’re almost built out on our Outer Banks. So retreat basically means abandonment to us.”

The panelists indicated that there are very few specific strategies designed for coastal communities and that often, the most promising programs call for resources that smaller communities do not have. FEMA, as an example, has a Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program that, in concept, could provide funding for coastal communities.

But Smith asserted that “one of the real challenges with the BRIC program is it’s really complicated. It’s really difficult to administer, it’s difficult to put together a winning application…We did some research on this, and we found a lot of communities aren’t even applying because it’s just too difficult.”

Much of the discussion concentrated on two issues—how difficult it is to pay for projects and certain areas that are overlooked when addressing the funding needs of coastal communities.

“The most critical [needs] are uninhabited areas,” said Outten. “The areas when you come off the Basnight Bridge we call it the Canal Zone, is right on the ocean and right on the sound and there’s no one there to tax. It’s part of the [Pea Island] Wildlife Refuge and so you can’t use a municipal service district to generate funds,” he added referring to special tax districts used to help pay for beach nourishment projects.

One of the most significant problems facing coastal communities is what to do as beaches continue to retreat, leaving some properties vulnerable with no practical way to save them.

The panelists discussed the idea of buyouts, where a government agency or nonprofit purchases a home at risk of damaging the environment. If the concept is simple, the ramifications can be complex.

“After Hurricane Matthew…we put together teams that looked at six hard hit…communities looking at the concerns associated with the loss of tax base and buyouts,” Smith said.

It is also unclear whether buyouts of endangered homes will continue to be a viable alternative. The Conservation Fund’s Holman pointed to a growing sentiment that homes and businesses should not be getting funding.

“It’s more challenging to do structures because it’s much harder to get both public and private support for buyouts,” he said.

Outten observed that, “I don’t know how much public support there is for buying out second homes. So even though I think there…actually are a lot of public benefits to that, we’re not going to make that case.”

The discussion of insurance coverage for second homes echoed a remark NOAA’s Stiller made at the beginning of the program. “We don’t have a lot of things [to protect a property] pre- disaster,” she noted.

Toward the end of that discussion, Outten outlined an idea that might address some of the issues of pre-disaster planning.

“It seems to me that a lot of these houses that we have problems with, homeowners are obviously trying to make the best economic return that they can get on a bad situation,” he said, adding that because they carry flood insurance, there may be an opportunity to be proactive in preventing the complex and expensive cleanup that is inevitable if the ocean destroys the home.

“If FEMA is going to pay for that, if that is something that is insurable and is a recoverable claim, where it’s inevitable…why wouldn’t they do a buyout ahead of the disaster to avoid all the problems that would come with it? They’re really not out any more money,” he said.

The idea seemed to be welcomed by group co-chair Braxton Davis, Director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

“I’ll say that I share those feelings,” he said. “We are working on that and that was definitely going to be one of the main topics of the next meeting.”


  • Sarah Sanders

    Public money should never be used for these projects. The homeless don’t have a FIRST home, much less a second.

    Tuesday, Feb 28 @ 6:07 pm
  • obxron

    When people chose homes on the beach either they knew and accepted the dangers and economic consequences or else they were willingly blind to what could happen to their investments. Why should the government be responsible for their poor choice and why aren’t these property owners assessed a tax for the eventual future cleanup of their homes once they are in the ocean?

    Tuesday, Feb 28 @ 7:54 pm
  • surf123

    Another meeting with no results or viable actions other than thinking FEMA will change the flood policy to allow for payout before a home falls into the ocean. Could happen, but this is years away if ever and will change the nature of all insurance. You cannot force a claim before there is one. Prior to the building boom of the 2000’s when a house fell no one cared. People cleaned up what they wanted and life went on. Whatever happens please do not reward those who made the terrible decisions to purchase oceanfront property some of whom purchased it within the last 5 years.

    Tuesday, Feb 28 @ 8:27 pm
  • Daniel Kerlakian

    The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The government cannot force these homes to move without just compensation (look up south Nags Head litigation), which is why they are looking for ways to incentivize people to move these homes in addition to proposing new rules (e.g., septic tanks prohibition on the beach) to make it more difficult for these homes to continue to operate. Every beach town in Dare County, and all of NC would look like Rodanthe if not for beach nourishment. Tax dollars, including those of homeowners in Rodanthe, are being paid to support nourishment everywhere else but Rodanthe. Many of these homes were also built before the groin at Oregon Inlet was installed which has exponentially increased the erosion in Rodanthe. People don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash sitting around to buy property and move a house because someone says they should. Thus if the government wants them gone before their time is up then they should pay either to move them or nourish the beach which solves their problems at a much lesser expense. Last NPS promised Rodanthe and other communities on Hatteras Island (via a public letter published in the Coastland Times) when the park was founded that they would maintain the beach and prevent erosion and in fact did so until the mid 70s. Maybe they should rethink this strategy now that we know nourishment works and help fund nourishment instead of leaving the financial responsibility squarely on Dare County taxpayers even for NPS beaches (e.g., Avon and Buxton) . It is a National seashore after all that has encroached on private land, not the other way around. Dare County can’t do this alone, the state and federal government need to step up.

    Tuesday, Feb 28 @ 9:08 pm
  • Steven

    I like the idea of moving them to the mainland, that’s what they’re trying to do to locals, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
    That’s exactly what happens on other barrier islands, place rental house on a barge and ship it to its new location..

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 5:08 am
  • Czarina

    Matthew 7:26 ESV

    And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 5:42 am
  • Mike Raphone

    Anyone who builds on the oceanfront, and thinks this is a good idea is an absolute fool. It is also not the government’s responsibility to take care of you. Take your losses, and go back home.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 8:08 am
  • Jeff Walker

    If any of them were honest they’d admit this place has completely become a real estate speculation ponzi scheme, and the only thing left is seeing who’ll be holding the bag at the end when there’s no more beach nourishment or any other erosion mitigation programs.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 8:53 am
  • Manteobxr

    Where does the culpability for insurance companies play in this matter? You will not stop the ocean…ever. Buy out and tear them down would likely be an option if insurers co opted with grants to acheive this goal. There are still a few trees left on the beach so still room to build more. Look at the old maps of the inlets cause they will return someday.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 12:22 pm
  • Jimmy Jimmy

    It’s called a bulldozer… You can use it to knock them down.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 1:35 pm
  • surf123

    The homes in peril with some exceptions were built in 80’s when there was a multiple dune line and several hundred feet of beach. No one even knew what erosion was and if they did they were not concerned about it. Now some, if not all, of these homes surely changed hands multiple times over the 30-40 years so it was more of last man holding the bag deal than a Ponzi scheme. Some of the bag holders purchased in the last two years which defies all logic. The law needs to change or be applied to the Realtors who sold these houses knowing these houses have been on the clock so to speak for the last 5-10 years. Anyone who is here over the winter and sees a good nor’easter knows the run up is in the street in front of these houses and has been for at least the last 10 years. As I will continue to say…let them fall.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 8:26 pm
  • We Need Better Questions

    We don’t need better answers. We all know the answers, we just don’t like the answers. We need better questions.

    Wednesday, Mar 1 @ 9:15 pm
  • Currituck

    A plan and other people’s money will not stop the ocean. Let those that CHOOSE to own homes on the coast bear the cost of the loss of the land and home.


    Thursday, Mar 2 @ 4:10 am
  • democracy

    Public money- taxpayer dollars- should NOT be used to buy a private home, much less one that’s been rented out for years at exorbitant prices.

    Friday, Mar 3 @ 2:13 pm