Eight Days Down The Cape Fear River

from Our State Magazine

…   After 170 miles of paddling, downtown Wilmington appears at the confluence of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers.

We ducked underneath a railroad bridge at Navassa as a large sightseeing boat was bearing down on us. “We love you, Kemp!” screamed a dozen women and girls onboard. Kemp shook his head and smiled. The captain was a friend of his, Kemp said. He wasn’t really that popular.

At 11:30, we paddled underneath another highway bridge at the mouth of the Northeast Cape Fear River, and suddenly we were downtown, passing a Coast Guard cutter and the Battleship North Carolina, waterfront parks, buildings, fountains, and cars. Men and women eating lunch at riverside restaurants watched us take stroke after stroke. Joggers glanced at us. Dogs sniffed in our direction. We sat up straight, and stuck out our chests. We paddled toward Dram Tree Park like runners entering a stadium at the end of a grueling marathon.

We turned left, just above the noisy Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, and pulled onto a ramp, where Cape Fear River Watch volunteers, friends, and onlookers greeted us. We walked up the street to Elijah’s for a big lunch and Endless River beer. It felt like our journey was over, even though we weren’t done just yet. “The worst part of the trip ending?” Chris said. “You don’t get to paddle the next day.”

As we walked, one of the onlookers stopped me. “How was the trip?” she asked.

It was like having a new job, I said. A good job. I got up in the morning, and got to work paddling. At the end of the day, I had dinner, relaxed, and went to bed. The next morning, I got up and did it again. It was simple. As simple as I dreamed it could be.

And with that, on the seventh day, we rested.

The last day of paddling was an afterthought. We had 26 miles to go, and the wind was at our backs, with a falling tide to push us. We’d reach the river’s end by lunchtime. We left Dram Tree Park at 5:30 a.m. with light boats, carrying just some water and snacks. We paddled into the blackness of the 42-foot-deep shipping channel and quickly encountered a container ship, the Maersk Wakayama, being guided by a tugboat to the mile-long State Port just south of downtown. We gave it a wide berth. The ship was almost the size of two football fields and its captain likely couldn’t see us.

The Cape Fear River was now an estuary, and as its water dried on our coats, it left behind a salty residue. The channel was a mile wide. We passed Island 13, a splinter of land bulked up by sand and dirt dredged from the riverbed. Ahead, the water disappeared into the horizon, under a blue sky flecked with high, pink clouds. Pelicans, ibis, and seagulls circled above us.

View images and read the full story of paddling 200 miles down the Cape Fear River at Our State Magazine.

 

February Meeting – Cape Fear Riverwatch

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 20, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper and Executive Director of Cape Fear River Watch, where he works to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River.

Kemp’s academic background is in geology and history, graduating from UNCW magna cum laude with honors, and he holds a master of public administration (MPA), also from UNCW. He holds a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University, as well.

Kemp spends most of his free time with his two daughters, Olivia and Caroline, working in his garden, or tinkering in his workshop, or exploring the waterways and swamps of the Lower Cape Fear Region. He has been the Executive Director and Riverkeeper for Cape Fear River Watch since 2010.

Cape Fear Riverwatch organizes monthly environmental seminars that cover topics and issues affecting the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. They encourage working internships for students. At Greenfield Lake, they offer Environmental Education classes and provide Eco-Tours and Bird Watching Tours.

CFRW offers water-quality education programs to groups including schools, civic groups, developers, homeowner associations and others. They provide storm water management training for local government staff.

 

The Archaeology of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson

by Nancy Gadzuk

Jim McGee- Brunswick Town/Fort AndersonJim McKee, Site Manager of the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site, spoke at the September 19, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Jim spoke on The Archaeology of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson.

The Brunswick Town archaeological collection is the largest in the state of North Carolina.

Several conditions contributed to the large number of artifacts. First, Brunswick Town was prosperous and a world-class port. The density of people and cargo passing through the area was conducive to numerous artifacts (defined as anything man-made) being left in the area.

The people of Brunswick Town, and many colonial areas, disposed of their refuse in the streets. The streets were literally paved with refuse. Back in the day, this was called refuse or garbage. Now, this refuse is called historical artifacts.

Brunswick Town had three wharves, and the area immediately surrounding the wharves has been a treasure trove of colonial artifacts. Much of what shipped out of Brunswick was naval stores, products made from pine tar and sap.

Pine tar, river muck, and salt water all combined to make an excellent preservative for anything that fell into that marine environment. Most of the artifacts Jim shared with us were found near Captain William Dry’s wharf.

Archaeologists use the artifacts they find to form a theory of what happened at the time – from the mundane to the outrageous, with reality generally found somewhere between the extremes.

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson - shoeAt Captain Dry’s wharf, for example, they found six leather shoes in the muck, a step or two from the edge of the wharf. Each shoe was pointed toe first, suggesting some kind of panic on the wharf, so that sailors jumped, fell, or were pushed into the water.

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson - coinAlso found were a Spanish silver coin stamped by the mint master of Seville and fabric with buttonholes in the style of the Havana garrison uniform. These artifacts supported the belief that Dry was largely responsible for repelling a Spanish invasion in 1748.

Many Brunswick Town inhabitants were wealthy landowners who also had property elsewhere.

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson - water jugOther artifacts gave us a glimpse of a well-traveled, prosperous population: water jugs from Germany, a Dutch copper mouth harp, an intricate pocket watch key, an Irish half penny.

One person’s careless discards can, over time, become an important historical record.

 

 

September Meeting – Jim McKee on Archaeology at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, September 19, 7:30 p.m. at the JIM MCKEEFederal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Jim McKee will present a program called “Archaeology of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson.” According to McKee, archaeology has been the primary source of information about the history of Brunswick.

After a nearly forty-year hiatus, archaeology is once again being regularly conducted at the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson site. McKee will talk about what has been done in the past and what is planned for the future. Artifacts give us an idea of what life was like during Colonial times.

McKee plans to bring along a number of BrunsTown artifactoriginal items discovered during recent archaeological digs at the site – items that are not yet on public display.

Jim McKee is the site manager at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site. He is a graduate of Greensboro College and a passionate life-long student of American history.

He serves on numerous historic battlefield boards and participates in living history programs throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Previously, he worked for the National Park Service and the NC Maritime Museum at Southport.

 

What are the Seneca Guns?

Steve Plaffby Nancy Gadzuk

Steve Pfaff, Warning Coordinator Meteorologist at the Wilmington office of the National Weather Service, provided some insight and information to help answer this question at the History Center’s April 18, 2016 open meeting.

He first showed some short video clips on the Seneca Guns from a segment of The Unexplained Files, a TV series produced by the Science Channel. The clips included an audio recording of the “boom” most of the audience recognized as the sound of the Seneca Guns, as well as interviews with locals who described their experiences hearing the Guns.

Steve was featured on the video as the down-to-earth scientist who explained some possible causes of the Seneca Guns and served as an antidote to the show’s sensationalist presentation of the Seneca Guns as both terrifying and earth-shattering. (Two representative episodes of The Unexplained Files are “Voodoo Zombies” and “UFO Meets Missiles at Malstrom Air Force Base,” so the Seneca Guns were up against some stiff competition for high drama.)

Seneca Guns OriginsThe Seneca Guns got their name from James Fenimore Cooper’s short story, “The Lake Gun,” that featured similar sounds heard near New York’s Seneca Lake. Most occurrences are near water, as sound travels better through water than through air. They seem to be more common during temperature inversions, when cool, dense air near the ground creates a sound channel that sounds can reverberate against, creating the booms we hear at ground level.

Steve described some of the possible causes for the Seneca Guns, such as the collapse of underwater caves, distant thunderstorms, shallow offshore earthquakes, sub-marine landslides, undersea methane release, and offshore military operations—and then gave us scientific evidence and data that seemed to disprove most of these theories.

Seneca Guns - LandlidesCaptain Skippy Winner spoke from the audience about his own experiences in the past as a boat captain sending his observations and readings of sub-marine landslides and turbulence to the Weather Service to add to their data compilation.

Steve acknowledged the importance of input such as Skippy’s in documenting and understanding the realities of weather activity.

Did Steve ever give us the definitive answer as to what causes the Seneca Guns? Not really, but offshore military operations seemed the most plausible to me.

James Fenimore Cooper had his own explanation for the phenomenon:

“Tis a chief of the Senecas, thrown into the lake by the Great Spirit, for his bad conduct. Whenever he tries to get upon the land, the Spirit speaks to him from the caves below, and he obeys.”  

“THAT must mean the ‘Lake Gun?’ ”  

“So the pale-faces call it.”

Scott Len: Overview of CCC’s and Camp Sapona

Camp Sapona - Southport's Ownby Nancy Gadzuk

Scott Len spoke to a large crowd at the January 18, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society on the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, with a special emphasis on the CCC’s Camp Sapona, located in Southport.

Scott grew up listening to his granddad talk about his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Utah, and these conversations piqued his interest in knowing more. When Scott retired to Southport, he began researching the history of the CCC’s Camp Sapona, which had been built on and around Leonard Street, a stone’s throw from his new home.

Camp Sapona 1934The nation was reeling from the weight of the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt was elected President. One of his first acts as president was to introduce a bill for Emergency Conservation Work on March 27, 1933. The bill cleared both houses of Congress in four days and FDR signed it into law on March 31. The first enrollees signed up on April 7, and the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp opened on April 17.

Seventeen days after Roosevelt signed the legislation, the first camp opened. Imagine government moving that quickly now! Within three months, the CCC had 275,000 enrollees in 1300 camps.

Young single men between the ages of 18 and 26, who had dependents—parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents—were eligible to join the CCC. They could enroll for six month periods, and could re-enroll for up to a total of eighteen months. The men were given a place to live, a job, clothing, and $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to family. And food. Food was a big deal for enrollees. Young men gained on average twelve pounds while they were part of the CCC. It was the first time many of them had had three meals a day in a very long time.

Camp Sapona - Work Project MapCamp Sapona, or Camp P-62, Company 427, operated from October 1934 to December 1937. The first enrollees lived in tents while clearing the surrounding pine woods to build camp buildings. Work then concentrated on building access to forest areas, and the enrollees built roads, bridges, fire breaks, as well as fire towers in Shallotte, Maco, and Bolivia. Wild fires were a big problem in the area and the Sapona enrollees spent 6,102 man-days fighting fires. (CCC kept very good records!)

Enrollees worked eight-hour days, five days a week. In off hours, there were plenty of opportunities for education, training, and recreation. The camp offered classes in literacy, math, carpentry and other vocational skills. Their large motor pool encouraged mechanic skills training. Camp Sapona had a wood shop and a blacksmith shop. Their big rec hall would hold dances open to Southport residents. The local Amuzu Theater provided entertainment for the enrollees.

The camp had organized sports teams and its own newspaper, the Sapona Sandspur. They had a series of canine mascots, including Soapy, considered by the newspaper to be the King Arthur of the Sapona Canine Round Table—“though he is not of royal blood and, so far as can be determined, is of the cur and hound breed.”

It’s not surprising that many enrollees would sign up for a second or even a third six month period, fulfilling the goal of training and rehabilitating young men.

Motor Pool - Camp SaponaNorth Carolina had a total of 163 CCC camps, with an average of forty-five operating in any one year, giving employment to more than 75,000 men and channeling more than $82,000,000 into the state.

Over 3,000,000 men served in the CCC throughout the country during its eleven years of operation.

President Roosevelt declared “a government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the unemployment of its citizens, and the Civilian Conservation Corps was part of that response. It was the most popular of the New Deal programs.

A government worthy of its name. We would do well today to follow FDR’s lead.


Interested in learning more about family members’ CCC service? The CCC kept excellent personnel records on enrollees. Start here for instructions on requesting these records:

CCC Legacy includes resources to continue CCC research and includes a complete state by state listing of all CCC camps.

Suzanne Dorsey, Bald Head Island Conservancy – February Meeting

Suzanne DorseyThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 15, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Suzanne Dorsey, PhD, Executive Director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

She will talk about the Conservancy at Bald Head Island and her work as its director.  She will also discuss barrier islands and the implications of the possible removal of The Rocks at Fort Fisher.

Dr. Suzanne E. Dorsey earned her doctorate in coastal oceanography and has been BHI Conservancy logoworking in research and education for over 15 years. Communicating the importance of our coastal ecosystems, particularly Barrier Islands, is a primary focus for Dr. Dorsey.

She feels that the first step to promoting conservation and preservation of these critical coastal habitat is forging a connection between the people who live and visit our beaches and the sensitive habitats found here.

The Smith Island Complex encompasses so many examples of rare and sensitive habitats and the Bald Head Island Conservancy provides a perfect opportunity to not only educate people but to promote effective stewardship of these environments. Suzanne enjoys working with people and sharing her passion for nature. Her spare time is devoted to her husband and two children.

 

Pilots of the Cape Fear River – Brooks Newton Preik

brooks Newton Preik #2

Brooks Newton Preik

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Author and historian Brooks Newton Preik is our November speaker. Her topic will be the River Pilots of the Cape Fear River.

From the plight of the European explorers of the 1600’s whose ships foundered on Frying Pan Shoals, to the Union naval officers outsmarted by the elusiveness of the Confederate Blockade Runners, to present-day seamen with their sophisticated, electronic, navigational equipment, one truth has remained the same: no ship’s captain with any sense at all would risk taking his ship through the treacherous waters of Cape Fear without the aid of an experienced local pilot to guide it.

Southport Pilot Station

Southport Pilot Station

The history of this always small group of talented, intrepid men who braved the shifting shoals and shallows of Cape Fear to guide ships safely through its waters is the stuff of legends.

Descended from a host of these courageous pilots, Brooks Preik will share with us some of the tales of their exploits, the dangers they faced and their unique legacy which has shaped the history of this region. Stories of shipwrecks, pirates, adventurers and even a few ghosts are among the stories Brooks will tell.

Born and raised in Southport, Brooks Preik has been a resident of Wilmington for more than 40 years. Some of her earliest ancestors are buried in the Newton Cemetery at Federal Point. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. For 10 years she was an elementary school teacher and following that, for the next 35 years, she was a real estate broker.

Brooks began her writing career in 1993 when she co-authored a guidebook to the area entitled What Locals Know about Wilmington and Its Beaches. Her collection of “true” ghost stories, Haunted Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast, published in 1995 by Banks Channel Books, is now in its sixth printing and she has published more than 80 freelance articles in regional magazines since that time.

She has shared her love of local history and her stories with countless numbers of area school groups, civic clubs, UNCW sponsored events, and various community organizations.

Back in March 1998, Brooks did a presentation about John W. Harper at a monthly meeting at the Federal Point History Center.

Copies of Haunted Wilmington will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

 

‘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

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

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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).

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

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StarNews 3/22/17
‘The Rocks’ aren’t going anywhere anytime soon 

A bill passed last year, and sponsored by N.C. Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, asked the state Department of Environmental Quality to study the feasibility of moving parts of the dam south of Zeke’s Island to restore flow between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.

That study didn’t go forward after federal agencies asked the state to refine why it wanted to study moving the structure. Susan Weston, district counsel for the Army Corps, said nothing had changed regarding the agency’s stance since it sent the state its letter in January 2016.

“Our comments at that time were intended to identify the authorizations from the Corps that would be required to open an inlet in that location, as well as to raise important issues that would need to be considered in any study that the State may undertake,” she said in an email. “We have not received a written reply to that letter.”
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The N.C. State Ports Authority paid $30 million for 600 acres north of Southport and south of the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in 2006 to be used for a new “International Terminal” to accommodate huge, deep-draft container ships. That project never happened, but the ports authority still owns the land.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Rabon said of renewing efforts to build the terminal. “The port’s never coming.”

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Ben Steelman interviews Daniel Ray Norris – August 10, 2015

Ben SteelmanBen Steelman of the Wilmington StarNews talks with Daniel Ray Norris about his new thriller Cape Fear Blackwater Deep.

Monday, August 10th at 7 pm in the WHQR (91.3) MC Erny Gallery.

 

About the author:
Daniel NorrisDaniel Ray Norris has authored two books about the good ol’ days at Carolina Beach and as President of SlapDash Publishing, designs, writes and publishes local history and fiction.

He is also an avid photographer, graphic designer, biology teacher, and videographer. Daniel was born in Wilmington, NC and raised at Carolina Beach and Teachy, NC.

He is a direct descendant of Blackbeard and struggles daily not to wreak havoc among the southward sailing vessels that ply the Intracoastal waterway behind his house. For more about Norris click here.

About the novel:
A series of events are set in motion the day Cameron Nivens helps a friend hang a few bird houses. He soon finds himself entangled in a relationship that spirals out of control. Nothing could have prepared him for the wild ride his life was about to take. Seemingly innocent decisions wreak havoc with his almost perfect world and ultimately put him on a collision course with crazy.

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