BEAUFORT – The state’s environmental secretary and other officials from his agency assessed by air Wednesday the damage Hurricane Dorian inflicted on the Outer Banks earlier this month, a scene the secretary described as a call to action on coastal resiliency.
Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, Steve Murphey, director of DEQ’s Division of Marine Fisheries, and Division of Coastal Management Director Braxton Davis left from Michael J. Smith Field, an airport in Beaufort, to fly over the hard-hit barrier islands.
“There was considerable damage along the coast where we saw a number of breaches changing the flow of water from the ocean into the inlets and sounds and fracturing the connecting land between the islands and the rest of the state,” Regan said following the flight. “Some of those breaches could become permanent inlets changing the ecological balance of our sounds.”
Regan added that he and the other officials saw the rebuilding efforts of the businesses and residents on Ocracoke and the North Carolina Department of Transportation working diligently to repair the washed-out roads.
“Some of the damage we saw caused by Dorian is a culmination of the beating the coast has taken from hurricanes Florence and Matthew, and a reminder that we have to work smarter and rebuild stronger to make our coast more adaptable to the changing climate,” he said.
Davis explained that from the air they were unable to see the full effect of the historic flooding on Ocracoke Island.
“But we were able to see firsthand numerous breaches along sections of Core Banks and Ocracoke Island – most of which formed as water was leaving Pamlico Sound,” he said. “We are working very closely with NCDOT to restore N.C. 12 on Ocracoke as quickly as possible, and to begin considering the best long-term options for adapting to these kinds of impacts in the future.”
On Sept. 6, NCDOT engineers assessed N.C. 12 on both Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. That day in Ocracoke, there were two, 500-foot sections of road severely damaged that will require extensive repairs, according to NCDOT officials. As of Monday, the section of N.C.12 on Ocracoke was closed and NCDOT expanded service Tuesday on the emergency route between Hatteras and Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor.
? 1 p.m. update:
➡️ Access to Ocracoke Island is restricted to emergency responders and authorized personnel only until further notice >> https://t.co/pTARu7vTI9
➡️ Those looking to help can securely donate at https://t.co/6nXhnWRvHt
? Drone images >> NC-12 in Hyde County pic.twitter.com/4ysvDiHSAR
— NCDOT NC12 (@NCDOT_NC12) September 8, 2019
Before boarding the plane late Wednesday morning, Regan told Coastal Review Online that Hurricane Dorian “is evidence that we’re starting to see these storms more frequently, they’re obviously becoming more intense, and there is that cumulative impact, therefore we know that climate change is something that we have to begin to take a serious look at from a planning process.”
Regan added that Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 of October 2018 takes a look at this problem in two stages.
“The first is on the mitigation side. What can we do to begin to lower our carbon footprint? But then there’s the reality that this is the new norm, and so how do we, as a society, learn to deal with and live with these impacts that we’re going to see in the foreseeable future?”
Regan said the administration has been spending time working with locally elected officials and others on the coast who have been living with the effects for a long time.
“There are a lot of good solutions, and we need to marry our federal, state and local resources to build back our coast in a more resilient fashion,” Regan said. “That way as we see these storms, we can have our economies bounce back much quicker.”
The other thing is, he continued, we are seeing more flooding and high-water events at times that are not hurricane related, just normal storms.
“And so it’s got to be a lot more planning done, and a lot more partnership to figure out how can we build back North Carolina to be more resilient,” he said.
The vision of Cooper’s plan fits in really nicely with what’s happening on the ground, he added, “Meaning again this is another event, but it’s not a new event. We can’t keep putting Humpty Dumpty back the same way each time.”
Flood planning and the rebuilding of wastewater treatment facilities and water systems have to be done in a way that can better anticipate the types of effects, which he said will require more forethought and more resources but will save resources in the long run, and more importantly protect water quality, environmental quality and human life.
For now, Regan recommended that those recovering from hurricanes reach out to state agencies relevant to their needs.
Some of the stories that the administration is hearing are instrumental to the planning process.
“We do have a resiliency planning process that’s underway right now being driven by the Department of Environmental Quality,” and will issue a report next March. “We’re working really hard with our other agencies to think about how do we better prepare and survive these storms that we are going see in the near future,” Regan said.
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Productive day in the air for @ncdeq surveying #HurricaneDorian damage on #Ocracoke Island in @HydeNC & the #ecological damage along #NC coastline. We’ll continue partnering w/ #coastal communities to address #climatechange impacts to the environment & the economy, rebuilding stronger & better than ever. #ProtectNC #YourDEQ ???
As part of Hurricane Dorian recovery, DEQ is assessing where flooding takes place and where the effects on water quality or water systems are visible.
“We’re also taking a look at, today especially, what kind of damage has been done along our coastline and how has that impacted the ecological systems and the ecology,” he said, referring to the mission of the flight. “We’re also doing a damage assessment for those reasons, but also trying to anticipate what this storm did in comparison to what other storms have done, like Florence and Matthew, so that as we begin to rebuild, especially on the natural buffers, and looking at again, investments that the state is making, how can we do it in a more effective way and a more efficient way.”
Regan said that gathering results from Hurricane Dorian is still underway, but there are results from Florence and Matthew. Funds have been appropriated to some projects to rebuilt but the state is still waiting on the federal government to provide full funding to recover from these storms.
But with Hurricane Dorian, the verdict is still out. “That’s’ why we’re here today, on the ground, doing a close look at what needs to be done specifically for these counties.”
Regan said he’s been in Tyrrell, Hyde, Craven and Beaufort counties in recent weeks, and “we’re talking with everyone that’s been impacted to make sure that those stories are incorporated into our state plan.”
He said that members of Cooper’s administration will remain involved in the area, especially in Ocracoke, to assess the storm’s damage and respond.
“These hurricanes come in for a short period of time but they leave long-term damage,” he said. “We’ll be on the ground in these counties for the foreseeable future until the last nail is put into the last plank.”