Harkers Island – As Hurricane Lee moved east of Carteret County in the Atlantic Ocean, a group of Downeast residents, scientists and state officials paused Sept. 12-13 to remember the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Florence and how the community needs to prepare for sea level rise and future flooding.
“There’s a different kind of storm brewing — one is beach erosion, fish migration, saltwater ingress and flooded roads, and Downeast is right in the middle of that storm’s path,” said Ryan Stancill, project coordinator at RISING, an R&D researcher. . An organization documenting the effects of sea level rise and how to prepare for the future along the coast.
He continued: “The people who live here are not the only ones who know this.” “In the past five years, Downeast has attracted the interest of every major academic institution in the state, and state agencies have turned keen interest in our direction.”
Florence, a Category 1 hurricane, devastated Carteret County, including Downeast, with heavy rain and flooding from September 13 to 14, 2018, displacing many from their homes. The effects of the storm are being felt five years later, with 146 families still awaiting repairs to their housing, according to the Carteret Long Term Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit created in the storm’s aftermath to provide repairs and assistance to hurricane victims.
The gathering, held at the Coeur Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, featured numerous speakers, including scientists, researchers and representatives of several government agencies and universities.
Topics included not only the effects of Florence, but the effects of floods and sea level rise now and projections for the future.
About 150 people, many of them Downeast residents, attended the two-day program called “Remembering Florence – Five Years Ago.” It was sponsored by the Middle East Resilience Network.
Scientists, researchers and state Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday they continue to conduct research and prepare for continued sea level rise and an increase in major hurricanes and flooding events. There are multiple research projects underway to document, study and inform residents how to be better prepared.
Researchers estimate that over the next three decades sea levels along the East Coast will rise 10 to 14 inches, bringing intrusive saltwater onto properties to the east in certain communities, said Dr. Katherine Arnade, of the Sunny Day Project at North Carolina State University. Where people live.
The Sunny Day Flood Project installed flood sensors in known flood hotspots in the Middle East and in Beaufort to track how often floods occur outside of extreme events.
“We’ve seen about 6 inches of sea level rise in Beaufort over the last 20 years,” she said. “What will 10 to 15 inches of sea level rise look like in the Downeast over the next 30 years?”
She said residents need to prepare for more severe and frequent storms and more flooding caused by tidal events.
“Since April 2023, there have been 32 instances of water on the road to a maximum depth of 10 to 12 inches above the road,” she said.
In Beaufort, in the past 12 months, there have been 65 cases of water on the road.
“The scary thing is how warm the water is,” said Dr. Chris Voss, a retiree from the UNC Institute of Marine Science and founder of the King Tides Project, another organization that documents the effects of sea level rise on tides. Yes, the water levels are rising. In addition to ice melt and thermal expansion, when water levels are warmer, levels are higher.
She noted that communities can adapt and prepare for sea level rise and more severe flooding events.
“All is not lost by 2050,” she said. “We know we’re going to have more storm surges and storm surges. We’re in an area where we need to plan. We have to be prepared for up to 8 inches of rain during the downpour.”
She added, however, that the continued construction of housing projects in flood-prone areas of the Downeast was a concern.
“When I drive here and see where some homes are being built, I’m amazed,” she said.
Dr. Rob Young, director of the Advanced Beach Study Program, a joint project between Duke University and Western Carolina University and a professor of geology, said he is frustrated with the areas of the Downeast where some homes are being built.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the in-ground septic systems in the Middle East were working. Most wells are deep enough that I don’t have to worry about that, but if I lived in certain areas like Davis Shores, I wouldn’t let my kids play in storm ditches. I’m frustrated They’re building in the Down East, where we know the systems can’t be useful.
He added that he was disappointed that county officials who needed help making the changes did not attend the event.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the people who might be able to answer at the county level are not here,” he said.
Young said his three main goals are keeping people dry, planning for transportation and infrastructure, and planning for sanitation and water needs.
He said he realized that infrastructure money doesn’t seem to be making its way to unincorporated areas like the Downeast, and other methods, such as grants and nonprofits, may need to be used to fund needed changes, including raising homes.
“How do you leverage those federal resources and get some of that money into the Middle East?” he said. “We have to stop talking and start doing things. We need our elected officials to really get involved and make it happen.”
He added: “We won’t be able to protect every piece of land in the east, but we don’t have to go into the hills either. There are places that are still high and dry in the east. You can still keep your communities together, but there might be a few generations of people who might have to.” “To move, we need to find a place for them. I think it’s doable.”
Young said he is currently doing free home evaluations in the east to see if they are prepared for flooding. He said his staff will only be able to do a limited amount of these items, but those interested can contact Core Sound Museum Director Karen Amsbacher at 252-723-0982 by Oct. 1.
Department of Transportation (DOT) engineers also conducted a panel discussion on the challenges DOT faces during disasters and how they can prepare for the future.
Engineer Jeff Kabinis said one of the challenges they face is that they can only address issues with the state right-of-way.
“We want to keep water off the roads and we can accept water coming off the roads through pipes and culverts. We can clean ditches, but we can’t make the water go if it’s impacted by things outside of our right of way.
Kabinis also said the Department of Transportation has a limited amount of money to address an expensive problem.
“We built easily and cheaply. Now everything is expensive and difficult.”
One thing the Department of Transport is preparing to do is add flexibility to the list of criteria when considering and scoring projects to be funded in the future. Engineers said they are looking for better ways to design systems and expand sewer pipes to handle the increasing amounts of water.
Young asked if the Department of Transportation had considered raising roads in the east. Engineers said there were multiple things to consider, including whether raising the road would lead to flooding in residential yards and the cost.
David Lewis of Marshallsburg, whose home was flooded during Hurricanes Florence and Isabel, said he came because he wanted to learn more about what could be done.
“I thought the conference was great. I wanted to come because of dropout issues, but I learned a lot about the many programs. “I’m disappointed the district wasn’t here.”
Amsbacher said the primary goal of the meeting is to raise awareness of the issues and challenges Downeast faces regarding resiliency and planning for the future.
“We are at Easter, and we have to find a way to live with this and adapt to it.”
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; Email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; Or follow us on Twitter @cherylccnt.