North Carolina Town Uses Sandbags to Save 20 Endangered Homes

January 5, 2015

Property owners and a coastal town are building a supersized sandbag wall to keep waves from collapsing about 20 homes along one of North Carolina’s most fragile barrier islands.

Crews are building a 9-foot-tall wall of sandbags to save the homes on Topsail Island’s northern tip, a move which had to be approved by the state’s Coastal Resources Commission because it will be 3 feet taller than the maximum allowed height, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

North Carolina’s coastal policy for decades has restricted sea walls because they tend to deflect damage to nearby property. But there have been exceptions.

The new barrier is being built just north of an even taller sandbag wall protecting the Topsail Reef condominium complex’s eight buildings. The condominiums got state approval this fall to build the sandbag wall up to 12 feet – likely among the highest in the state.

North Topsail Beach town aldermen also plan a public hearing Wednesday on whether to extend the protection of the new barrier further north with a standard-height sandbag wall for four more lots, multiple media reported.

Town officials hope the barriers will protect the property of their tax-paying owners until a project to redirect the New River Inlet’s channel takes hold.

Engineers estimated that without the plus-sized sea wall, the nearly two dozen homes might collapse into the ocean within the next year. High tides already push waves under the buildings and concrete driveways have washed away. The town has cut off utilities as a precaution.

The houses now threatened were second-row homes about a decade or so ago before the 11 houses then on the beachfront were razed as the shoreline shifted.

The town’s fund reserves and the affected property owners are each putting up half the $2.6 million cost of the new barrier. Burlington contractor Jorge Giovinazzo, who owns an imperiled duplex, said he sees little alternative to paying his share and hoping the power is back on in time for vacation rental season.

“I’ve got no choice until they condemn the whole thing and we get the insurance money,” Giovinazzo said.

But critics including East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs said the sandbags won’t stave off the inevitable march of Mother Nature on a barrier island, which has few spots much above sea level.

“Building bigger and bigger hardened structures to save 21 houses that should have been condemned or removed a long time ago is just crazy,” Riggs said. “We’re spending more money than those structures are worth.”

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