One less surf break thanks to Irene

Photo from Steve Helber, AP

Hurricane Irene was far from harmless. It took a number of lives and collectively cost us well over a billion dollars to prepare for her commute up the east coast.

Armageddon may not have spun from her windy tendrils (which seems to be the only way people in New York City can justify an evacuation) but she did manage to obliterate one of the most popular surf breaks in the southeast, S Turns in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Named for its location along a few mile stretch of gentle turns on Pea Island’s Highway 12, the only stretch of pavement holding together the fragile barrier island chain. S Turns was probably the most consistent—and localized—break to be found along the state’s wiry coastline. The break is exactly where the new inlet has formed in the left of the above photo. (You may recognize the house in the foreground on the right, which was moved just after it was used in this movie. Good thing, too.)

S Turns was a thick, sandy beach break on the northern tip of the village of Rodanthe, a rental house-strewn tourist town. It was often firing when other area breaks were plowing mushy knee-highs into shore, which helps explain why it was often busy enough to warrant its own zip code. Nevertheless, local pros, or just plain locals, often dominated its barrel-friendly swells.

Now, a 900-foot gap has been torn open where previously a hundred cars could be found on a good summer weekend. The ocean is flowing freely into the Pamlico Sound and Highway 12 looks like the bottom of a bag of chips.

It’s unlikely rebuilding efforts will include the break’s revitalization. Actually, it probably shouldn’t. After all, the Outer Banks was just doing its job in making sure Irene bounced along the state’s eastern ledge, not into its mainland.

Maybe S Turns will come back, but it’s unlikely. The Outer Banks profile is defined by the impact of these storms. It’s possible another break will rise up as result of the tide of Irene. If not, we still have the memories. Check out some YouTubes of S Turns.

Environmental issues may arise over Bonner Bridge impact on Pea Island

Oregon Inlet's Bonner Bridge

Don't Pea on the Parade

After far too many years of what most will deem political grand standing, the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks has been approved for replacement. The impressive span connects Hatteras Island and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and serves as the primary gateway to the heart of the barrier island chain that outlines North Carolina.

Environmental groups have started to speak up in opposition to the proposed replacement plan because of its potential impact to the refuge during construction, which calls for a parallel bridge to be built while the original remains in use. The second bridge would best serve the region as a bypass around the refuge, opponents say. Well, sure. It just costs $1 billion instead of $300 million. So there’s that.

I can understand the doubt some groups have that the mirroring bridge will remain within the current right of way but Pea Island already benefits from very little tourist visitation outside those cruising by on Highway 12, as it’s access points are already naturally limited. Most tourists blow right by the sign in a beeline for their rental home down 12 into Rodanthe. Same with the surfers. In other words, it’s not like the new bridge is going to turn Pea Island into Disney Land. Additionally, to what extent would the alternative solution allow access to Pea Island for those who do choose to visit it?

I remain mixed on that portion of the debate. I think more needs to come to light before any real stand can be taken. Let’s get some plans in the books first.

The Outer Banks are proof of Mother Nature’s frustrated artistry

Jennette’s Pier under construction in Nags Head

Wind and solar power will alleviate the pier's drag on the local grid

The new Nags Head pier, officially called the The North Carolina Aquariums Jennette’s Pier, is getting closer to completion every day. The hurricane-resistant project’s most intriguing characteristics, which also include a conference center, sealife displays and classrooms, are the three towering windmills that span its 800-foot reach into the Atlantic.

In an area pocked by the scars of harsh, hurricane-enriched coastal weather tantrums, this is a bold move for the Town of Nags Head. The pier succumbed to the environment completely in 2003, when Hurricane Isabel erupted off of the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. Apparently, the new version is resting securely upon concrete pilings buried 40 feet into the tideline.

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