“The waves have washed away all the dunes": Avon, N.C., seeking fix for eroding shoreline

Waves crash through sand dunes into a pool at a rental cottage in Avon, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 as Hurricane Maria approaching the Outer Banks.

A new study will examine the cost and scope of rebuilding the beach at Avon, yet another Outer Banks community struggling with shrinking shorelines and surf pounding at the doorsteps.

A November nor’easter deluged the village for days. At every high tide, waves poured over the flattened dunes and rushed like a river under homes and onto the roads, including N.C. 12.

The receding tides deposited mounds of sand in the neighborhoods, filling swimming pools and leaving parked cars buried up to the windows. The state closed N.C. 12 for four days.

The two-lane highway is the only route through Hatteras Island.

“The waves have washed away all the dunes,” said John Ponton, a member of the Avon Property Owners Association. “We need a wider beach.”

Avon is at the center of Hatteras Island with a large supermarket and upscale shops. The popular Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Cape Point fishing are just a few miles away.

The thriving rental market can tolerate occasional flooding and road closures, but if the ocean overflows too often, business could decline, said Dare County commissioner and Outer Banks realtor Danny Couch.

The worst could be yet to come this year. The most powerful nor’easters typically strike in March, Couch said.

“Right now, every garden variety nor’easter is going to flood that area,” he said.

Dare County set aside $250,000 for the study and it will include an evaluation of the Southern Shores beach.

Parts of the Avon shoreline erode six feet a year, according to state maps.

The Avon beach has lost sand both on the visible beach and underwater, said Haiqing Kaczkowski, an engineer with Coastal Science and Engineering. The entire shoreline profile must be recharged with tons of sand before rebuilding dunes that can withstand the storm surge, she said.

“The situation has become worse in recent years,” she said. “It is more urgent now.”

The company led a $22 million beach nourishment project for Dare County in Buxton that covered three miles of coastline. Just after it was finished, a winter storm struck in March 2018 and washed away a large percentage of the beach, but did not damage N.C. 12. The wider shoreline saved the highway, Couch said.

Another Buxton beach rebuild is set for 2021 at an estimated cost of nearly $20 million.

Widening two miles at Avon could cost about the same, Ponton said.

Replenishing shorelines has become a standard practice on the Outer Banks. Years ago, beach nourishment was considered too expensive and too temporary, Couch said.

“Now everybody wants to do it,” he said.

In the last eight years, Dare County and every town with an oceanfront has reloaded its beaches for a total of 33 miles costing $160 million. Nags Head has widened its beach twice in that time, including this year.

Dare County created a beach nourishment fund pulled from a percentage of lodging taxes it collects. Towns have created tax districts to help pay for the projects. In some cases, federal money is available. Oceanfront homeowners typically pay a higher percentage.

“We’re not going to stop Mother Nature, but we might find a way to work with her,” Couch said.

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

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.