‘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.”
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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.”
…….

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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