Storied Hatteras Island is threatened with depopulation the modern way.
America’s roads connect us with our lives. They carry us on mundane trips to work and school, adventurous treks to parts unknown, visits to friends and family. Roads are the arteries of the American Body, providing the lifeblood of commerce and recreation. But one road in particular has become the target of environmental tyranny, posing a grave threat to the people who rely on it for their livelihood and safety.
It is called Highway 12, a simple two-lane affair that serves as the lifeline for the villagers who live on Hatteras Island, situated among North Carolina’s fabled Outer Banks. A narrow barrier island anchored many miles in the North Atlantic Ocean — some refer to it as a giant sandbar — Hatteras has but one main road which is the only way on or off the island other than boat or private aircraft. It is a necessity of life for the sturdy fishermen, shopkeepers, and tradesmen whose families have lived on Hatteras for generations.
No one is more aware of the delicate balance between nature and humanity than Hatteras islanders. They know their stewardship of the environment is both practical and necessary. They also understand that the Atlantic isn’t always content to respect the province of dry land and, as such, Hatteras is subject to occasional ocean washovers when hurricanes or Nor’easters come too close for comfort.
The island and Highway 12 were most recently breached by Hurricane Irene in August, 2011. The storm washed away five sections of road; four were filled in and one required a bridge spanning more than 650 feet. It also sparked renewed interest in a radical idea, noted in passing in a September 28 Fox News article: “Depopulate Hatteras Island, stop the repair and rebuilding, and simply turn it back over to nature.” But the preferred means of modern depopulation is not physical force. It is economic force, leveraged on the fulcrum of militant environmentalism.
A Media Narrative Emerges
The cost of rebuilding Highway 12 after Hurricane Irene amounted to roughly $11 million, a price that had activists howling before the repairs were even complete. As early as October 8, 2011, the Los Angeles Times quoted East Carolina University geologist Dorothea Ames saying the state was, “just filling those holes in the road with money.”
The LA Times article, provocatively titled “Ready to stick a fork in Hatteras Island road,” also noted the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) lawsuit to block construction of a new bridge that would replace the half-century old Bonner Bridge over which Highway 12 passes between Hatteras Island and Bodie Island to the north.
A few months later, critics were in high dudgeon, hectoring readers of the New York Times in a March 5, 2012 article about the folly of, “our own little bridge to nowhere,” unsubstantiated claims that Highway 12 will “bankrupt the state,” and road maintenance as “totally a lost cause.”
Stanley Riggs is a particularly vocal critic of keeping Highway 12 open. The East Carolina University geology professor has crunched the numbers and estimates that between $90 million and $100 million has been spent on the road since 1983. He further reckons that keeping Highway 12 open for the next 100 years will cost $930 million.
But economic arguments like these neglect the other half of the equation, that being the value of commerce owing to Highway 12. Hatteras Island and most of the Outer Banks are part of Dare County, which relies primarily on tourism for revenue. It is not an insignificant sum. County officials estimate that tourism generated $834 million in economic impact in 2010 (the most recent year for which full data are available), supporting more than 11,000 jobs and a payroll exceeding $172 million.
Hatteras Island isn’t responsible for all of this economic activity, but it contributes more than its fair share. In terms of occupancy receipts for 2011, the revenue from motel, campground and cottage rentals by visitors to the seven villages of Hatteras exceeded $99.5 million, according to country records. That’s slightly more than one fourth of all occupancy receipts county-wide even though the island’s 4,300 residents represent just one-eighth of Dare County’s population. Claims that Hatteras doesn’t pay its share of the freight don’t withstand scrutiny.
The economy is so robust Dare County is classified as a “donor” county, a designation conferred to municipalities that provide more revenue to the state treasury than they receive in annual appropriations from the capital in Raleigh. But these facts are absent from arguments promoting an agenda that is strangling the economy and are echoed by some of the nation’s largest, most notoriously liberal newspapers.
An Underlying Agenda
Riggs, Ames, and a number of their East Carolina University colleagues produced in 2009 a research paper entitled “Eye of a human hurricane: Pea Island, Oregon Inlet, and Bodie Island, northern Outer Banks, North Carolina” noting, among other things:
… the constructed dune ridges prevent the natural, overwash and inlet-driven evolution of habitats that constitute a major component of the “mission and purpose” of both Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Piping plovers, oyster catchers, black skimmers, and numerous species of terns and turtles are critically dependent upon overwash and inlet habitats.” (Page 65)
The concern for turtles and plovers is admirable but what of the human habitat protected by those dune ridges? People have lived on Hatteras Island for centuries, long before the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area (its proper name) was established, yet people seem immaterial. As for the ribbon of asphalt that brings life and commerce to island residents, the authors dismiss portions of Hatteras as, “little more than a conveyance for Highway 12.”
Professor Riggs and his colleagues have also prepared a science curriculum for middle and high school students exploring the geology of barrier islands. For students contemplating a life on the Outer Banks, the curriculum bleakly instructs them that, “large island segments will totally disappear within the next few decades.” (Part 1, Lesson 8)
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online