• ‘The Rocks’ in the News

    StarNews – April 28, 2016
    By Cammie Bellamy
    Army Corps – ‘Why remove The Rocks?’

    FORT FISHER — When legislators take up removal of the New Inlet Dam this year, they’ll have some explaining to do.

    From Battery Buchanan out to  The Rocks

    From Battery Buchanan out to
    The Rocks

    This month the state released its report on the 140-year-old structure south of Zeke’s Island, known locally as “The Rocks.” A provision in the state budget, passed last summer, asked the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to study the feasibility of digging out parts of the dam to restore “the natural hydrodynamic flow between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.” But federal agencies say before they sign off on the project, they need a better explanation.

    “A clear purpose”

    The Army Corps of Engineers built the dam in the late 1800s to keep the lower Cape Fear navigable — silt flowing from the ocean had made it as shallow as 12 feet in some spots. The removal language made it into the budget last year after a bill on the issue, co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, stalled in the N.C. General Assembly.

    Before the Rocks are removed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would have to shift the boundary of the Zeke’s Island Preserve. In a letter to DEQ included in the study, NOAA program manager Erica Seiden said the administration needs “the rationale for expansion” and information on how the area will be used. The corps would also have to approve any alteration to the dam. Justin McCorcle, an attorney for the corps’ Wilmington district, wrote in another letter that legislators must give “a clear purpose and need for the project.”
    ….
    The future of “The Rocks”

    Built between 1875 and 1891, the New Inlet Dam is known to locals as “The Rocks.” The dam includes two sections — one to the north or Zeke’s Island and one extending south. The 4.25-mile long structure separates the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic Ocean. The state’s budget bill calls for a study into removing the Rocks south of Zeke’s Island and reopening New Inlet.   … more >>>

     

    State Port Pilot,  April 13, 2016
    US Army Corps says state’s between ‘The Rocks’ and a hard place in proposal to remove dam

    While it does not draw firm conclusions, the state’s report on the idea of removing a century-old dam on the lower Cape Fear River called “The Rocks” has more questions than answers and makes it clear that the plan would require extensive study if it moves forward. …

    A paper by contract engineer Erik Olsen stated the project could seriously harm Bald Head Island’s beaches and subject Southport to a greater risk of flooding during storms.

    Bald Head Island, Southport, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Boiling Spring Lakes, Carolina Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach, the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association and Bald Head Association all passed resolutions against the proposal.

    The corps’ response to the state included in the study is more than 130 pages, and raises a host of questions and issues.

    The state has a “lack of a clear proposal,” the corps stated, “with no identifiable navigational benefits.” Removal of the dam is likely to “reduce access to recreational beaches … with uncertain environmental benefits.”   … more >>>

     

    Island Gazette,  July 29, 2015   (Updated:  Sep. 3, 2015)
    Kure Beach Council Discusses Safety Of Rock Wall Near Fort Fisher

    According to the Federal Point Historic Society, from an article written in their November 1995 newsletter by Sandy Jackson, “In 1870 the Corps of Engineers made a postwar survey of the Cape Fear River under Gen. J. H. Simpson. The results of Simpson’s survey supported closing New Inlet, south of Fort Fisher, prior to any dredging in the river, since sand washed in the inlet would quickly refill the channel”.

     

    StarNews – Sunday,  August 30, 2015
    Editorial – Rocks solid

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers once listed “The Rocks” near Fort Fisher as one of its proudest achievements, at least in the Southeast.

    So why does state Sen. Mike Lee want to tear it down?

    Lee, a New Hanover County Republican, introduced a bill to remove all or part of the rock wall between Zeke’s Island and Smith Island/Bald Head Island. A similar notion was slipped into the state House appropriations bill. It’s still unclear whether the plan will survive budget negotiations between the two fractious houses in North Carolina’s legislature.

    Lee and others talk a lot about restoring the natural flow of the Cape Fear River and restoring the local environment. There’s a lot of that going around these days; lots of old dams are being demolished around the country, as experts and others decide we can do better without them.

    But the Rocks? This is serious business.

    The nearly 2-mile-long dam was built up by the Corps between 1874 and 1882 to close New Inlet, from the ocean into the Cape Fear River. (That inlet had been opened by a hurricane in 1761, which shows you what constitutes “New” around here.)   … more ›››

     

    Coastal Review Online – Beach and Inlet Management:  8/28/15
    Senate Plan for ‘The Rocks’ Still Unknown

    RALEIGH — As House and Senate budget conferees tick through the list of unresolved issues hanging up a final deal, one provision yet to be cleared is what to do with the 140-year-old New Inlet Dam at Zeke’s Island on the Cape Fear River.

    The provision spells out a plan to remove the nearly two-mile breakwater, built in 1871 to close the shallow and meandering New Inlet.

    The plan generated little discussion when it was first introduced but has drawn the scrutiny of local governments in the area worried that opening another inlet and changing the river’s hydrology would increase beach erosion. Eight towns, including Southport and the Village of Bald Head Island, have come out against the plan saying they have yet to hear evidence that removing the rocks will do what supporters claim.

    Opponents have not only questioned the concept, but its origins, including whether it has anything to do with a revival of plans for a mega-port project near Southport.   … more ›››

     

    StarNews 7/29/15:   Remove ‘The Rocks’?

    Bald Head Island | Local governments and marine experts say the explanation being given for a bill removing the structure known as “The Rocks” doesn’t pass muster, and they’ll oppose it until they get a better one.

    Zeke's Island - The Rocks between Battery Buchanan and Bald Head Island

    Zeke’s Island – The Rocks between Battery Buchanan out to Bald Head Island

    The removal of “The Rocks” between Zeke’s and Smith (Bald Head) Island on the southern tip of New Hanover County, which would also shift the boundary of the Zeke’s Island Reserve 200 feet east toward the Atlantic Ocean, is part of N.C. House Bill 97, the 2015 Appropriations Act. N.C. Senate Bill 160, which originally proposed the action, passed the state Senate in May, but has been stalled in a House committee since.  Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, is a sponsor of the Senate bill.

    “Ecosystem restoration and protection of navigational safety” are cited in the legislation as key reasons for removing The Rocks, but local experts say such action could have negative effects such as increased shoaling in the Cape Fear River and erosion on Bald Head Island’s East Beach. Local experts and officials also don’t think the ecosystem restoration reason holds water.

    “What I smell in this is that we’re not being leveled with about what’s really going on,” said Larry Cahoon, a professor and oceanographer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “Ecologically, I haven’t heard an argument about what’s broken that needs fixing.”

    The ecosystem in that area, Cahoon added, has developed over the nearly 150 years The Rocks have been there, and any major changes could be disruptive, particularly if an inlet were to reopen between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River.

    StarNews 7/29/15:   Plan to remove ‘The Rocks’ opposed

    ~~~~~~~~~
    Background & History:
    The Closing of New Inlet (The Rocks) 1870-1881
    by Sandy Jackson: Federal Point Historical Society

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Lumina News 7/14/15:  Rock wall removal could cause shoaling in shipping channel, some say

    From Battery Buchanan out to The Rocks

    From Battery Buchanan out to
    The Rocks

    The Rocks, south of Zeke’s Island near the tip of New Hanover County, is more than three miles long and at some points 37 feet high and 120 feet wide, said Spencer Rogers, a coastal construction and erosion specialist with N.C. Sea Grant.

    Its purpose was to hold back sediment flowing in from an inlet that was opened by a hurricane in the 1800s.

    “It’s the most complicated section of oceanfront in all of North Carolina,” Rogers said.

    During the Civil War, the inlet was an asset to Confederate forces because blockade runners could navigate the shallow water near the opening, allowing them to get around Union ships that blocked the main channel, he said. But after the war it impeded shipping up the channel.   … more ›››

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    NC Rep. Michael Lee proposes doing away with “The Rocks”
    Excerpted from StarNews Article by Gareth McGrath, April 28, 2015

    For more than a century “the Rocks,” a breakwater built by the Army Corps of Engineers, has separated tMichael Leehe channels at the southern tip of New Hanover County from the Cape Fear River. But language added to legislation that would allocate funding to help North Carolina maintain the state’s inlets and waterways is looking to change that.

    Senate Bill 160, which is currently before the NC Senate Finance Committee, calls for the portion of the Rocks south of Zeke’s Island – between Zeke’s and Smith Island – to be removed.

    The language also would shift the boundary of the Zeke’s Island Reserve 200 feet eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Rocks form part of the reserve’s boundary. According to the bill, the reason for the move would be “for ecosystem restoration and protection of navigational safety.”

    But the idea of removing the Rocks has left officials – many of whom didn’t know about the proposal until it was added to the bill in committee – scratching their heads, wondering if there is more to the dam’s removal than just what’s stated in the bill. State Senator, Michael Lee, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said that’s not the case. He said removing The Rocks would simply help restore the area’s natural equilibrium. “The general idea is that they don’t need to be there, so let’s see if we can get them removed,” Lee said.

    Zeke's Island #1Removing the Rocks, part of which extend more than 30 feet down, would change the dynamics of the ecosystem that now inhabits the lagoon.

    But the increased tidal flow also would likely put into motion a process that would see New Inlet reopened.

    That inlet, which was opened by a hurricane in 1761, closed in the late 19th century – although other channels, including Corncake Inlet, have opened and closed nearby over the decades.

    Historically, New Inlet was popular with ship captains but a thorn to officials trying to keep the Cape Fear River shipping channel open. As early as the mid-19th century engineers had concluded that the best way to solve the shoaling woes was to close the inlet.

    So in 1875 the Army Corps began work on the Rocks, finishing the 4.25-mile-long dam in 1891 at a cost of $766,000. Shutting off the inlet’s tidal flows stopped most of the sand washing into the shipping channel – and allowed subsequent deepening of the channel to be feasible, including today’s 42 feet.

    “Partially opening up the structure would significantly increase the chances of inlet breaches in the vicinity of the opening, which would cause shoaling problems to immediately reappear,” said Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineering expert with NC Sea Grant.

    But the reopening of the inlet also could offer vessels, assuming the channel was deep enough, a much faster and safer route to the open ocean – a point championed in a column in the April 25, 1971, issue of the Wilmington StarNews. “Reopening of the inlet would have immediate and long-range benefits,” the article states. “The initial results would be to reopen the once available channel from Southport to the Atlantic at Fort Fisher and northward without the long voyage around the shoals which extend seaward from the tip of Bald Head Island.”

    But while a reopened inlet could save shippers time and the government maintenance dollars, it also could have major impacts on the environment – and that has some Bald Head officials concerned.

    Bald Head Island

    Bald Head Island

    “If you’re opening up an inlet, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Andrew Sayre, mayor of the island village.

    Of chief concern is what might happen to the island’s now-healthy East Beach, which could be starved of sand if the sediment that naturally flows down from Pleasure Island gets washed out to sea or into the Cape Fear.

    “This could have a devastating impact on our island,” said Suzanne Dorsey, executive director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

    The Rocks

    The Rocks

    Officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which manages the Zeke’s Island Reserve, also are concerned about what the removal of the Rocks would do to the reserve’s ecosystem.

    Then there’s the question of whether the federal government would approve a change in the reserve’s boundaries, since the reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    DENR spokeswoman Michele Walker said the state in 1980 used $1.18 million in federal funds to purchase most of the land that encompasses the reserve.

    With so many questions out there, no one expects anything with the Rocks to happen quickly.  Lee said if the provision is approved by the General Assembly he expected a series of studies to take place to gauge the environmental and other impacts from any removal work.

    The Rocks - Battery Buchanan - Zeke's Island - Bald Head Island[click]</i<

    The Rocks – Battery Buchanan – Zeke’s Island – Bald Head Island
    [click]

    “This wouldn’t be a quick process,” the state senator said. “We’d certainly want to know all of the potential impacts before we took any action.”

    Removing the Rocks, part of which extend more than 30 feet down, would change the dynamics of the ecosystem that now inhabits the lagoon. But the increased tidal flow also would likely put into motion a process that would see New Inlet reopened.

    That inlet, which was opened by a hurricane in 1761, closed in the late 19th century – although other channels, including Corncake Inlet, have opened and closed nearby over the decades.

    But while a reopened inlet could save shippers time and the government maintenance dollars, it also could have major impacts on the environment – and that has some Bald Head officials concerned. “If you’re opening up an inlet, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Andrew Sayre, mayor of the island village.

    Of chief concern is what might happen to the island’s now-healthy East Beach, which could be starved of sand if the sediment that naturally flows down from Pleasure Island gets washed out to sea or into the Cape Fear. “This could have a devastating impact on our island,” said Suzanne Dorsey, Executive Director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

    Officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which manages the Zeke’s Island Reserve, also are concerned about what the removal of the Rocks would do to the reserve’s ecosystem.

    Then there’s the question of whether the federal government would approve a change in the reserve’s boundaries, since the reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    ~~~~~~~~~

    StarNews  10/21/15
    Despite bill, ‘The Rocks’ going nowhere anytime soon

    ~~~~~~~~

    Susie Burnett Jones Remembers

    [Editor:  8/6/15 – August, 2015 Wrightsville Magazine featured: ‘Gilbert’s Sno-balls by Gil Burnett as told by Henry Burnett. 

    “Let’s go back 70-some years to the Great Depression.  Let’s go to 1937. Carolina Beach.  I was 12 years old, and I was a carnival boy.”

    It’s a great article about surviving on the Carolina Beach boardwalk.]

    ~~~~~~~

    In Feb, 2014, we ran an excerpt from John Hook’s interview of Jim Hannah.  In reply Susie Burnett Jones has sent the following:

    My father, John Henry Burnett of Burgaw, began investing in Carolina Beach in 1911; and in 1936 he built a six-bedroom cottage at 404 Carolina Beach Ave, North.

    Until World War II the beach had two distinct groups of people: the summer folks and the year round residents, of which there were very few. At that time those living at the beach year round included business owners and their employees, commercial fishermen (the Freemans and the Winners) and those associated with the church and the elementary school. We were summer folks, and, like many others, moved to the beach in May of every year and returned home in late August. Of course, many rented houses or rooms, usually for two weeks, as we did before building our cottage.

    Ocean Plaza - 1940s

    Click

    In the 1930’s downtown Carolina Beach, referred to as “the boardwalk,” was an entertainment mecca for young people throughout the Piedmont and Eastern North Carolina.

    Cliff Smith’s Green Lantern, and the Carolina Moon next door, were known throughout the state as the “places to be” for young dancers and “wannabes.” The Big Apple, the Little Apple and the Jitterbug kept their wooden floors red-hot every summer night.

    There was little or no crime. High school and college boys were allowed to “thumb” down by their parents, sleeping anywhere they could. All was well.

    On Sept. 19, 1940 the boardwalk burned to the ground. The original pavilion and good solid beach-front hang-outs were replaced by small, poorly constructed buildings.

    Pearl Harbor brought the end of an era. Soldiers and sailors from around the world now crowded the boardwalk mingling with shipyard workers, military police, summer visitors and permanent residents. Beer was bought and sold in every nook and cranny. The war changed the atmosphere of our wonderful family beach, where formerly beer had been only mildly visible after dark.

    After the war Mr. Gene Reynolds from Greensboro built the Ocean Plaza building on a location where he owned outside bowling alleys. The new building was modern and glamorous. Mr. Reynolds’s objective was to re-create a more sophisticated beach environment. The restaurant was on the ground floor. The second floor was a ballroom with several sets of French doors opening onto a long balcony over-looking the boardwalk. The third floor was a penthouse apartment for the use of the manager. During the time that the Ocean Plaza was under construction, I was away in college.

    In the early spring of 1949 I heard that the Ocean Plaza ballroom had a new manager, a radio personality from Wallace, John (?). He was auditioning for a vocalist to sing with the band he had hired for the summer, that was made up of musicians from the Duke Ambassadors and the Stormy Weathers of UNC.

    'Stormy Weather' at Ocean Plaza

    Click for Larger Image

    The band would be called Stormy Weathers because the Weathers brothers, Jimmy on piano and Bynum on bass, were the leaders.

    I had planned to spend the summer at Daddy’s house at the beach and having sung with several bands, decided to audition for the Ocean Plaza job. I knew that Daddy would keep an eye on me whatever I did.

    I owned a wire recorder for recording and critiquing my singing, so I sent a spool with recordings for my songs to John. Shortly thereafter he called me to come to the beach for an interview. He lived on the third floor penthouse of the Ocean Plaza, and had a relatively new wife from Waccamaw. Their living room was furnished with glamorous white sectional sofas. His wife was lovely and refined. He told me that he wanted to hire a vocalist with whom she would be compatible.

    Competing with Wrightsville Beach for summer vacationers and college kids, John’s goal was to make the Ocean Plaza ballroom a sophisticated club in which men would wear coats and ties or dinner jackets and women would wear cocktail dresses. All employees would be music students recruited by his wife’s brother, David Grey, a music major from UNC.

    Everyone hired was musical … the waiters, bartenders, ticket handlers, etc. Waiters would take turns coming up to the mike to sing. I was the vocalist and the only girl. The job was tailor-made for summer fun and meaningful summer work. Everything went like clockwork. We were all happy college kids and most of us hung out all day on the beach in front of the Burnett cottage under Daddy’s supervision, and were surrounded by music at night. Utopia!

    About a week after opening we were booked to be guests on John’s radio show in Wallace. Jimmy Weathers, who was slow and easy-going, was driving one of three cars full of musicians. We got started late and almost missed the 2 p.m. broadcast, running into the station just before the red “on the air” light came on. I don’t remember the program, except that one of the songs I sang was “Zippity Doo Dah.”

    Late Saturday on the second week of our employment the boys in the band went up to the penthouse to receive their checks. No one was there. The next day it became apparent that John had skipped town with his wife. No one knew why, or anything about their whereabouts. It’s still a mystery.

    What a dilemma. We all huddled on Sunday afternoon. No one wanted to leave the beach, but there was no money to keep the Ocean Plaza operating. After agonizing for hours some decided to leave. The rest of us determined that we would take over the Ocean Plaza Ballroom and run it ourselves for the rest of the summer.

    There were eight in the band, four singing waiters, a bartender, a box office person and me. We served only soft drinks and grilled cheese sandwiches. I was the vocalist and also managed the business. From our receipts we first paid the rent and our few bills and then divided the balance among ourselves. Everything was in cash. We were successful.

    Bop City featuring, Jimmy Cavallo, was across the boardwalk, its entrance about 50 feet from the front door of the Ocean Plaza. The two very different types of music came together like cymbals. … Jimmy Cavallo’s saxophone on “How High the Moon” and the Stormy Weathers “You’re Just too Marvelous” with the full band. Bobby Haas and a couple of others played at both places. Tommy Teabeaux and his trombone came by the Ocean Plaza one night and joined the Stormy Weathers for several numbers.

    The ballroom closed at midnight when we would lock the door and jam for another hour. Daddy kept a close eye on us all, and in August we all went back to our respective schools, leaving the pinnacle season in the Ocean Plaza ballroom’s history. Every person involved says to this day that it was the greatest summer of their lives.

    When the Moon Stood Still

    Click: Book Description

    PS:   Milton Bliss, a singing waiter, became head of the Music Department at NC State. Jimmy Weathers became a professional pianist in Atlanta, and on one occasion was complimented on his playing by Frank Sinatra. Bynum Weathers got his PhD and became a teacher and composer. I went to New York where I performed in and sang two solos in the off-Broadway musical “Dakota.”

     [Want to read more of Susie’s stories about the “good old days?” Our gift shop has copies of her book When the Moon Stood Still for sale. Published in 2003 it is $25.00 and we only have a few copies left.]