Dare County requests immediate action to restore Buxton Beach

By on March 5, 2024

Buxton Beach Access on Old Lighthouse Road Sept. 1, 2023, after Tropical Storm Idalia. (Photo: National Park Service)

Reprinted from CoastalReview.org

Citing threats to the environment and public safety, the Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Monday that requests that the Coast Guard take immediate action to restore the Buxton beach access to its “pre-military condition.”

Commissioner Danny Couch presented the resolution during the board’s regular meeting in Manteo. The resolution asks the Coast Guard, as the designated federal on-scene coordinator for the coastal zone in North Carolina, to take immediate action to rectify oil discharge into the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent shoreline and remove remaining infrastructure debris.

This situation is concerning, “not just from an environmental standpoint, but from a public safety standpoint as well,” Couch said.

The area at Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s Buxton beach access at the south end of Old Lighthouse Road served as a military base for both the Navy and Coast Guard from 1956 until 2010, according to the National Park Service website.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved in 1998 the Buxton Beach Access as a Formerly Used Defense Site and began responding to petroleum contamination there.

On Sept. 1, 2023, visitors reported that erosion from two storms “uncovered potentially hazardous infrastructure associated with the Navy and Coast Guard bases and visitors reported a strong smell of petroleum,” and reported these concerns to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Spill Response Center.

“Due to decades-long military usage and apparently incomplete restoration of the area, samples taken from the Buxton Beach Access beach tested positive in early September 2023, for petroleum-contaminated soils (PCS). Additionally, due to coastal erosion, abandoned facilities, construction debris, and septic systems associated with historic Navy and Coast Guard activities have been observed along the beach adjacent to the Buxton Beach Access,” the website states.

Most recently on Feb. 9, park staff noticed “a very strong smell of petroleum products and multiple surfers reported that their wetsuits and hair smelled like fuel and noticed a sheen on the water near Buxton Beach Access,” according to the website. Reports were again submitted to the National Response Center.

“Why should we be concerned about the closing of this beach here? I’ll tell you why,” Couch told the board. “Because it’s not a good look for National Seashore” to have houses crumbling into the ocean in Rodanthe because of erosion “and then to have crime tape” cordoning off the debris on the beach ranked No. 4 in the U.S. by Dr. Beach.

Dr. Beach is an author and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University who ranks beaches at drbeach.org.

The area in Buxton is also where where the county has committed to preserving N.C. Highway 12 infrastructure, Couch noted.

“I’m just curious if this exact scenario had washed up on the beaches of, I don’t know, Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons on Long Island. Would we still be begging pleading for someone to please remediate this dangerous and unhealthy situation?” Commissioner Bob Ross asked during the meeting.

Commissioner Bob Woodard noted during the meeting that he, the vice chair and the county manager were going to travel to Washington, D.C., and, “this will be one of our top subject matters when we meet with our legislators.”



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  • Greg

    The Department of Defense needs to get this cleanup job done now. The military has always had pollution issues.

    Tuesday, Mar 5 @ 11:16 am
  • surf123

    Resolutions are nothing but grandstanding. They have zero significance and do not solve any problems, but at least everyone but feel good about themselves. Just stay away from the area.

    Tuesday, Mar 5 @ 11:24 am
  • Carol Dillon

    Beach nourishment in Buxton will not work without stabilization. Two have been done, you need to look at the bigger picture of what a barrier island is. Dredging both ends of a barrier island removing the much needed sand to nourish those beaches, just putting sand down will not work.
    I was born in Buxton in 1956, lived and have businesses in Buxton, both beach nourishments have not worked. I was definitely for trying it, because we went 42 years since 1973 since a beach nourishment had been done but it will not work.

    Tuesday, Mar 5 @ 7:41 pm
  • Travis

    Carol is spot on. Beach nourishment **can** work under the right conditions, but those conditions are not ideal in the Buxton area. Make the strategy fit the problem.

    Thursday, Mar 7 @ 3:13 pm