KITTY HAWK, N.C.

Thick mats of marsh grasses and a manmade breakwater could save a storm-battered road once used by the Wright Brothers.

The Town of Kitty Hawk plans to build a shoreline protection structure stretching 520 feet along Moore Shore Road using natural vegetation to fend off the incessant waves of the Albemarle Sound.

The $150,000 project includes seven sills made from vinyl and wood ranging from 42 feet to 98 feet long, placed just offshore but allowing water and marine life to pass through.

It will be the first such project in northeastern North Carolina paid for in part by the state's Department of Transportation. The state added $30,000 to a $20,000 grant from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and $35,000 from the Dare County Soil and Water Conservation District. The town paid the balance.

Constant winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour that make the Outer Banks a world renowned destination for wind surfers also whip up waves that pound exposed shores. Even in calm conditions, the water laps against the pavement.

Moore Shore Road property owner Chuck Sullivan was losing a foot a year to erosion, but has noticed a big difference just since the breakwaters went up in January, he said.

"I was skeptical at first," he said. "But I am impressed."

The road was a primary route along the west side of the Outer Banks, said Kitty Hawk mayor and native Gary Perry. The Wright brothers used the route from 1900 to 1903 when they spent months on the Outer Banks experimenting with flight, Perry said.

"That was the main road for a long time," he said.

Now the road winds along the shore of the Kitty Hawk Bay for only about a half mile. The road was cut short decades ago to make way for waterfront housing, Perry said.

Environmental groups and government agencies promote living shorelines as the better way to protect roads and property over solid bulkheads. Several similar ventures have proven successful along the Outer Banks, said Ann Daisey, community conservationist with the Dare County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"We want to get away from hardening our shorelines," Daisey said.

Wave energy mauls bulkheads over time, burrows underneath or flows around the end to erode the land behind it or a neighbor's property, she said.

Living shorelines with breakwaters, on the other hand, provide habitat for native animals and naturally absorb pollutants, she said.

Plans are to plant species such as salt meadow haygrass, salt marsh cordgrass and black needlerush in the spring.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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