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Friday, December 30, 2011
Updated: January 6, 5:31 PM ET
Road issues in Rodanthe

There's no doubt why it's such an important resource for surfers. Lucas Rogers parks himself in an S-Turns gem.

New Year's resolutions -- did you make any yet? If you care about surfing the Outer Banks' best sandbars into late 2012, there are two you better choose from now: speak up more; or take up speed walking.

After Hurricane Irene gouged breaches along NC-12 at two longtime Outer Banks surf haunts -- one at Ranger Station (temporary bridge installed) and the other at Mirlo Beach (filled with sand) -- the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) realized reactive troubleshooting wasn't gonna cut it anymore. The time to restructure the road system in order to maintain access to Hatteras Island is now, and lies within a fresh system of bridges.

In a nutshell, that idyllic Hatteras surfing experience romanticized on so many postcards and surf pubs -- the one of dune reconnaissance and roadside talk story -- is over. Well, sort of. By this time next year, surfers won't likely be able to do what revered local surf journalist-turned-Surfrider Outer Banks Chapter Vice Chair Matt Walker calls, "the three Ps: pull over, park, paddle out" at the most consistently sought-and-surfed stretch of beachfront in Dare County -- most notably, the tuberiding capital of the East Coast, S-Turns.

With waters beneath the temporary bridge at the Ranger Station breach moving faster than expected, NCDOT has already approved plans to award the contract for the shortest bridge, 1.8 miles long, by March 30th, hoping to have it completed by August of 2012. The second bridge is what surfers should be concerned about, for which there are currently two options on the table: 1) a bridge spanning S-Turns, bringing traffic directly into Rodanthe (i.e. what surfers really want); and 2) a six-mile-long structure stretching from Pea Island out into the sound and completely bypassing North Rodanthe, effectively making this a private neighborhood of side streets.

Parking has long been an issue at Mirlo with a tight shoulder on NC 12 and has been compounded since Hurricane Irene broke the Atlantic Ocean into the Rodanthe neighborhood.

The bridges are happening. That much we know. Other efforts, like renourishment, immediately got thrown out for obvious reasons, mainly the question of, 'who's gonna promise to dump sand in perpetuity?' It doesn't take a genius to see the situation there isn't functional as it is. Once you get into Mirlo, you're either parking on the side of the road and risk getting stuck in a soft sand trap with the potential of being sideswiped by a southbound vehicle -- or you're parking on a private street or residential driveway and risking towing and ticketing. There's a long history of resentment from homeowners about surfers using their outside showers as well as the hazards caused by clusters of surfers changing with their car doors open to the path of traffic. So some kind of solution was inevitable.

"To be honest, we don't know what the solution looks like," says Matt Walker, "What we do know is they're already reworking Rodanthe in terms of pavement. Our position is, let's look at these plans ahead of time and figure a way to insert some sort of parking situation -- whether it's a giant parking lot, a series of little dirt lots or even a bathhouse under the bridge like they have at Sebastian Inlet. Our hope is if we can present 1000 names or more on this petition by January 20, the end of the comment period -- showing this is why people spend money to come here, maybe the people making the decisions will start to think from a desirability standpoint. Because if you wanna pick a reliable user group that continually goes there, you can't do better than surfers. They're the people who will return in the off-season when nobody else will. With long-term studies involving a third and fourth phase of similar spans, surfers are looking at five miles of access instead of 13. No matter what plan perseveres, we want Dare County and NCDOT to work toward preserving access to the breaks surrounding both those breaches."

Beth Smyre, the Project Planning Engineer from the NC DOT claims it's all being taken into account.

"We consider the impacts of the alternatives on many different types of recreational activities, including surfing. In particular, we look at how the design options may alter access to sections of the island that are used for surfing, camping, hiking, etc., or how they alter the activities themselves. Is there a bridge landing where people like to canoe in the sound, for example.

All those cars parked alongside NC-12 all year long will continue to show up. The question now is, "Where are you gonna put 'em?" When officials moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse back in 1999, they didn't just consider the new positioning of the national landmark, but how people would access it. From an economic standpoint alone, a North Rodanthe lot for recreational users makes sense and, in the end, almost any compromise will do. As long as surfers are considered in the equation.

"We're hoping enough people will show they feel maintaining access to one of the best surf spots on the East Coast is a top priority for those who go there to visit, or less common, move there to surf," finishes Walker. "Surfrider will take this petition, position that argument to NCDOT and Dare County, and make surfing a part of this puzzle so the residents are happy, the businesses are happy and the surfers are happy. People don't come here for the opera. They come to enjoy nature, and the bulk of them fish or surf. You can produce a long-term culture around that, but only if you maintain access to it. If you eliminate the access, you eliminate the culture."

So, if you sign the petition, is there anyone who's going to actually read it at the state level?

Rodanthe is still in a state of disrepair since Hurricane Irene, but the swells don't let up.

"At this time, we don't have any plans for additional parking included with the design options. However, we'd certainly like to hear from the surfing community if this is a concern. I would remind everyone that we are currently accepting comments on the long-term options for both the Pea Island and Rodanthe breach sites until January 20, so I encourage everyone to submit comments to me as soon as possible. Comments may be sent to me by email at"

That sounds simple enough. So if you're too lazy or indifferent to sign the petition above, and the suits decide something as simple as a parking lot in Rodanthe is just too trivial and expensive a headache to bother with, then by next fall be prepared to say "hello" to the East Coast's version of Trestles.

Because these 3-mil boots are made for walkin'...

Beth Smyre also welcomes written comments at:

Beth Smyre, P.E.
Project Planning Engineer
NC Department of Transportation
Project Development & Environmental Analysis Branch
1548 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1548