Year in Review: The stories that got our attention in 2016 - Shooting The Breeze


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Year in Review: The stories that got our attention in 2016

Friday 23 December 2016 at 4:41 pm.


For better and for worse, 2016 was a memorable year.

And before we get into the meat and potatoes of this blog entry – a review of the stories that the got the most attention from readers over the past 12 months – I want to start with a brief disclaimer. This is my first blog for the Island Free Press as a staff writer, and I fully recognize that I have big shoes to fill.

Anyone who knows our editor knows that she is vital to our local media. She is a genuine gift that somehow landed on Hatteras Island, and who has made our community – and our access to essential information -- infinitely better.

Irene led her staff to a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 when she was managing editor of the Louisville, Ky.-based Courier-Journal. Irene is also the person who ran the now defunct Island Breeze for a couple of decades, sculpting it into one of the initial legitimate news sources for our islands, years before the Internet was a “thing.”

And once the Internet was a “thing,” Irene broke new ground by starting the fabulous publication you are reading at this very moment – the Island Free Press – which, in my not-so-humble opinion, was a revolutionary move that single-handedly made our local media much better than it ever was before. Other online newspapers followed, to be sure, which is a great thing indeed, but Irene was the first.

And, as usual, she set the bar.

This is the reason why I followed Irene when she launched her new Island Free Press endeavor almost a decade ago, and which is why I have been actively trying to write for her since I graduated college in 2002.

I’m honored to write for the IFP, and perhaps share a little info or a different perspective via a few blogs. I just wanted to make it clear – from the onset – that my voice is just a complementary voice to the editor's.

But, in my defense, I also have the best mentor you could seriously hope for. And my guess is, being the astute editor that she is, Irene may very well delete the first few paragraphs I’ve just written because they are in no way newsworthy.

So with that being said, let’s get started by taking a look at a somewhat easy – although highly debatable – topic for this inaugural blog entry, which are my choices for the most influential news stories of 2016.


It’s impossible to cover the past year without focusing on the back-to-back storms, Hermine and Matthew, which took aim at Hatteras and Ocracoke in the fall of 2016. Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 9, was an especially devastating blow, especially to Frisco and Hatteras villages, resulting in more than 70 flooded homes in Hatteras village alone,

and producing more soundside flooding than most islanders had seen in their lifetime, which included reports of more than 5 feet of water on Highway 12.

After the storm, we talked to a number of residents who attested that the flooding was the “worst they had seen,” which included lifelong residents who had lived through 1993’s Hurricane Emily and 2003’s Hurricane Isabel.

If there’s a silver lining to this story, however, it’s what happened after the storm, and what is still happening now.

In the days that followed, a massive island-wide effort took place that resulted in groups of volunteers helping out villagers in need. Residents were flocking to Hatteras and Frisco from Buxton, Avon, and even the tri-villages, under the much heard mantra of “They helped us when we were hit by Irene, Alex, etc. – so it’s our turn to lend a hand.”

This was coupled with the efforts of the local residents themselves, who are pretty well known for dusting off after a storm and getting back to business. In fact, a number of Hatteras businesses were open in time for the Thanksgiving crowd – including the hard hit Oden’s Dock and Sonny’s – and the 25th annual Hatteras Village Christmas Parade, which occurred just two months after Matthew, which was one of the most festive yet.

It could be argued that the historic flooding itself is the biggest story of the year, but to give credit where it’s due, the bouncing back of Hatteras is arguably the best story.

Though “getting back to normal” is what islanders do well – and, unfortunately, often – the support of the island, and the enthusiasm of Hatteras and Frisco in general to move forward, is what sets our area apart.



Apparently, good things do come to those who wait – and who are wonderfully and aggressively persistent.

The current Bonner Bridge surpassed its 30-year-lifespan in 1993. It was also ranked a “4” by the NCDOT out of a scale of 1 to 100 when it came to bridge safety, with 100 being the highest-- though we can rest assured that it is regularly checked by the Department of Transportation and safe for travel.

And yet, it still took years – or rather decades at this point – for groundbreaking on a new bridge to actually begin. Along the way, numerous residents and grassroots organizations joined the fight – from the “Replace the Bridge NOW” movement in the mid-2000s, to the more recent "Bridge Moms," who got politicians’ attention by sharing their very valid concerns for their families.

But begin it did, in March of 2016, and Highway 12 has been an annoying and yet glorious construction zone ever since, as residents and visitors look forward to the brand new bridge which is slated to be completed by November 2018. (The overall project, which includes the demolition of the current bridge, is scheduled to be completed by September 2019.)

And the new Bonner Bridge isn’t the only improvement residents can look forward to along Highway 12. The replacement “temporary” bridge across Irene’s Inlet is also in full swing, and the new bridge on the northern edge of Rodanthe that will bypass the troublesome S-curves and Mirlo Beach will also be underway soon.

And while the March 8 groundbreaking ceremony was certainly an initial highlight of the story, the ensuing path to a new bridge had some other momentous occasions throughout 2016 as well – namely, when two runaway barges landed in Avon after Matthew blew them south and had to be moved 30 miles back to where they belonged.

So in short, it looks like the Bonner Bridge is going to remain on the “Top Stories of the Year” list for a couple more years to come. And the great news is that – with the exception of unexpected setbacks (like a runaway barge) – it looks like this story will have an eventual happy ending.


There were some bright aspects of 2016 to be sure, (see the aforementioned ‘Holy Cow! We’re Building a Bridge!’ section), but not all the news coming out of 2016 was nice and tidy.

Enter the realm of commercial and recreational fishing.

Local anglers dealt with a lot of blows from a number of combatants in 2016, which included a possible expansion of the USS Monitor Marine Sanctuary that the fishing and diving industries think could adversely affect them, new regulations on cobia fishing, recent proposed new troubles with shrimping and other commercial fishing restrictions, and the continued battle to get out of Hatteras Inlet without bumping bottom or getting stranded.

Watermen fought back, of course, and were present and vocal at local public meetings that addressed the aforementioned issues, but it’s a topic that is worrisome for many residents, and fishermen all across the islands are continuously concerned about what’s happening now, and what’s to come.


Another low point in 2016 was the high number of drownings and near-drownings that occurred throughout the summer and fall months in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

As of Oct. 19, a total of eight people had drowned off the islands’ beaches, which included two deaths reported on Ocracoke, four deaths in the tri-villages area, one in the northern end of Buxton, and one in Frisco. For comparison, there were no drowning deaths reported in 2015, and it’s highly unusual for more than one or two drownings to be reported along the national seashore in a year's time. The eight deaths is a record number -- or at least the highest number that most seashore officials and residents can remember.

All the drownings have been linked to rip currents, which are the major cause of death in the seashore. They are also, according to the National Weather Service, the number one public safety risk on the nation's beaches -- even though sharks grab more attention and get bigger headlines.

The National Park Service and local organizations, including the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, the Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue (which celebrated its 30th season in 2016), and area vacation rental companies, are already active in rip current education, but you can look for them to step up their game in getting the word out about rip current safety in 2017.


The National Seashore had a record number of sea turtle nests in 2016, with a total of 325 nests reported for the year, according to data gathered from It was the second consecutive year that this record was broken and was part of a national trend that saw high numbers of sea turtle nests all along the Southeastern Seaboard.

In addition, 2016 also marked the first full year that the National Park Service added ORV corridors to help keep more beaches open, despite the sky-high number of nest sites. Roughly 20 corridors had been temporarily established by late August, during the height of the nesting season, according to Michelle Havens, the former chief of resource management for the NPS Outer Banks Group. “They’ve been a tremendous success in allowing access to areas where the beach would have otherwise been closed,” she said in an Aug. 12 interview.

The reason for the influx of turtle nests has been tied to national conservation efforts that have been in place for years, as well as weather and environmental factors, which means that 2017 might very well be another banner year for island visitors of the turtle variety.


It’s a fact of life that strange things wash up on the local beaches, but when they do, it always causes a stir. It’s the reason why photos of unusual finds go viral on Facebook and social media, and why many locals still talk about The Great Dorito Jackpot of 2006, where hundreds of bags of Doritos washed ashore along the Frisco shoreline – and what a glorious day that was!

And in 2016, locals were left scratching their heads over the mystery of a Cuban refugee boat that washed ashore in Avon off of Greenwood Place on Sept. 27. The roughly 20-foot Styrofoam and wooden vessel still had supplies on board – which included bottled water, 30 cans of sardines, and 40 gallons of extra diesel fuel – but the former passengers were nowhere in sight, leading officials and locals to speculate what had happened.

Then, to add to the mystery, two more apparent Cuban refugee boats washed up in Avon close to the same locale just a couple weeks later on Oct. 8. These two vessels included a rustic pallet that had been marked by the U.S. Coast Guard, and a second boat sans-markings that was in much better shape, and which had a diesel engine, extra fuel, and a number of leftover items, such as hot dogs, ball caps, and giant bags of crackers.

Officials and locals theorized that the boats’ arrivals coincided with the recent storms, but the mystery remains as to what happened to the people onboard. Meanwhile, the vessels became a curious exhibit of sorts, and -- thanks to Jarvis Williams of Jarvis’ Towing -- the boats can still be examined at their temporary home by the Exxon gas station in Buxton.


Locals and long-time visitors everywhere were devastated to find that one of the island’s most popular watering holes and seafood joints – Pop’s Raw Bar – had caught on fire on Oct. 6. The eatery is a local icon, with at least one patron describing is as “Like 'Cheers,' but extra salty,” and the fire that started at 5:03 p.m. held up traffic along Highway 12 for several hours, with southbound traffic backed up all the way to Buxton Village Books by 7 p.m.

Damage to the building was significant, but anyone who has driven along Highway 12 in the months since the fire has surely noticed the progressing construction as Pop’s gets put back together – giving plenty of hope for cold beer and seafood fans everywhere.


While national politics certainly had its share of memorable moments in 2016 -- and I’m not going to touch that subject with a 10-foot pole -- our own local political scene saw some big changes as well.

Allen Burrus, who had served for 10 years on the Dare County Board of Commissioners, decided not to run for re-election for health reasons in 2016. During his tenure, Burrus tackled a number of issues that put islanders’ interests first, and said he was proudest of the work the board has done to improve substance abuse prevention andtreatment in the county. Also at the top of his list was getting ground broken for the Bonner Bridge replacement and other Highway 12 projects on northern Hatteras, according to a radio interview with Irene Nolan for Radio Hatteras earlier this month.

Burrus’ replacement, Danny Couch, is another strong Hatteras Island proponent who is well known as our island historian, and who is a lifetime local with a strong interest in community and civic organizations. Danny has a popular tour bus business, is a Realtor, and is an active community member in volunteer organizations, such as the Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where he serves as president. In many locals’ minds, Danny is the perfect replacement to represent islander’s interests, due to his passion and long history of supporting his hometown community.

But perhaps the political story that will linger well after 2016 is the loss of Warren Judge, who passed away in early November at the age of 65.

Warren was a true friend to Hatteras Island. Serving nine years on the tourism board before he was elected to the Dare County Board of Commissioners in 2000, Warren was a very familiar face throughout the island, where he travelled to attend almost all public meetings and events, and lent his voice to the issues that islanders cared about the most – from the replacement of the Bonner Bridge, to concerns over the USS Monitor Marine Sanctuary expansion.

On a personal note, Warren Judge -- with help from Allen Burrus – was responsible for getting me home after being evacuated for roughly 10 days after 2011’s Hurricane Irene – a remarkable kindness I have never forgotten.

When the evacuation was lifted, we waited in a hot line of cars in Stumpy Point for about five hours for the emergency ferry to take us back home, when at about 9 p.m., the ferries stopped running for some reason. Wondering what was going on, we called Irene, who in turn called Warren, who got the ball rolling to get the ferries running until all the hundreds of families who were stuck on the mosquito-infested mainland could get back to the island.

Once I was onboard with my grumpy pets and equally grumpy husband, Warren – who didn’t know me from Adam – even called me personally just to make sure I had gotten on a ferry.

I finally thanked him in person for helping us just a few months ago, and while he was incredibly gracious, it appeared he didn’t remember the incident as clearly as I still do – understandable, considering it was just one good deed in a very long list of good deeds he performed over a lifetime.

Simply put, all of Dare County and Hatteras Island will continue to miss Warren in the months and years to come. But the lives he touched, and the projects that he had a hand in launching – from new bridges to beach nourishment – will be a lasting mark of just how important he was to our community.


I hope you have enjoyed Joy Crist's first blog, as much as I have.

Joy is doing a great job helping us cover issues that matter for The Island Free Press -- from the Dare County Waterways Commission to the sudden and severe erosion in parts of south Avon. Now I welcome her help with providing fresh and interesting blogs for our readers.

I started the blog a year or two after we started the Island Free Press almost 10 years ago, and, since then, I have written more than 400.

I love writing the blog, but at a certain point, I feel that I am boring myself, therefore, I must be boring you.

Furthermore, there's not as much to write about now that most folks are happier with the Park Service and the Southern Environmental Law Center has kindly allowed us to replace the Bonner Bridge.

I hope Joy will bring a new tone and outlook on our island life and issues with her blogs.

I appreciate all the nice things she said about me -- though she is right that I trimmed her prose a bit. I left what I did to focus not on me but on the importance of locally produced community news and to remind our island small businesses that we are a small business also and that we need their support to keep this newspaper going forward.

As for her noting that she has big shoes to fill, I will say that my shoes are big only because they are stretched out from many years of wear and tear in this business.

Going forward, Joy and I will share blogging duties on no particular schedule.


Sandy Semans Ross

Welcome to Blog Land, Joy! I know that Irene will enjoy taking a break from blog duties every now and then. Great job on your very first one and look forward to reading many more.

Sandy Semans Ross - 23-12-’16 17:39
Salvo Jimmy

I look forward to another perspective in the blogs. The IFP and its local coverage is one of the best media things to happen on the Island. Coupled with Radio Hatteras, media local coverage is now 1st class.

Salvo Jimmy - 23-12-’16 17:52

Maybe it’s time for a new crew of commentors,too? Guest and Salvo Jimmy should be replaced by some new voices that are more in sync with today’s conservative and progressive agendas. When Republicans want to spend, spend, spend and Democrats want to gun up, we are in a whole new paradigm. Now Russia is good and Mexico is bad Two bridges are good, one bridge is bad. Driving trucks on the beach in the winter is good, dogs without leashes in the winter are bad. C’mon, someone step of and replace us, at least for most of the time. I won’t mind. C’mon, someone use your strong minds and fresh thinking to help us make sense of this post-truth reverso world. And Irene, I am glad you will still be be wrting blogs along with Joy.

guest - 23-12-’16 20:21
John Griffin

Well done young lady. I’m sure Irene is proud.

John Griffin - 24-12-’16 07:16
Kenny Brite

Well done Joy. I’m looking forward to more blogs. And yes, the Dorito’s on the beach incident still comes up often in conversations.

Kenny Brite - 24-12-’16 11:32
Avon Joe

This was a good listing of the major stories on the island, and well written too! About the politics … did anyone notice all the home-made TRUMP signs and the tent selling Trump SWAG that went up and down Hatteras dueling the summer? Hatteras was pretty typical of the rest of the large swaths of rural areas, hence the market for all the Trump gear. But what was interesting to me was the HI is not terribly political in normal times. 2016 wasn’t a normal year politically, though, so HI getting their politics on was fun to watch unfold.

Avon Joe - 25-12-’16 05:26

Welcome aboard Joy … well done . Have read most if not all your blog postings and can relate to each and everyone . Like Joe said above – good listing of stories . Irene keep up the great work .

diver531 - 26-12-’16 13:48
Tess Judge

Thank you for the wonderful article about my husband Warren Judge. Warren loved this county from all corners and all it’s people. Our family misses him so much as his death was so untimely .Your kindness in remembering him so graciously is very appreciated.I remember the time when Wayne Goodwin Insurance Commissioner was coming to Hatteras with Warren after a storm . He and Warren went to get the ferry at Stumpy Point. Warren told Comm Goodwin “we are going to park the car and we will walk on the ferry and leave our car here so that residents or service providers have space on ferry as needed”. Warren knew the crucial need of getting residents to their homes as soon as possible in such hard times with the storms.

Thank you for remembering Warren so kindly.

Tess Judge

Tess Judge - 01-01-’17 10:00
Dewey Parr

Thank you Joy Crist for your informative first blog. Looking forward to more. Correction to Irene Nolan’s Postscript. “I love writing the blog, but at a certain point, I feel that I am boring myself, therefore, I must be boring you.” I have been reading your blogs and articles for many years Irene Nolan and I never found one to be boring.

Dewey Parr - 02-01-’17 10:18
Al Adam

Your recap of 2016 is on the money and your writing style is very good. I never found Irene to be boring but sometimes, when you get to a tender age like me, it is good to turn things over to the next generation. We enjoy seeing our successors do well, unlike in politics. As for that I will attest to every favorable comment we’ve heard about Warren Judge. I officially met him while waiting for the first non resident home owners ferry from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe after Irene. He was the only county official present and when he said he was there to offer any possible assistance he was being sincere. I got to know him a bit better in subsequent years and never doubted his desire and hard work to do things for his constituents on HI.
Since we now have a NPS superintendent who has a mandate to improve beach access and the smarts to balance the needs of people and nature things have calmed down somewhat on the contention side of the blog. We have had a cottage in Salvo for over 30 years and been visiting for much longer and I always thought there was room for recreation and resource protection on HI. Having a new administration will give us a change at the top of DOI and stop some of the overreach by that agency that we have seen in recent years. Where it not for NPS HI may look like one of the many east coast shore towns that we avoid at all costs and having a superintendent who sincerely wishes to enhance visitor experience and protect habitat will enable taxpayers to enjoy the area for recreation as originally proposed.
The fortification of hi against the sea will always be a point of contention but it interests me that such things as beach nourishment or artificial reefs are not considered as SOP on our barrier island as they are on so many others. It must be a matter of the small voice of a small population but why should HI be chosen to be allowed to migrate when modern engineering could slow that process and perhaps allow viable solutions in the future. I can understand why HI residents often feel like orphans.
Keep up the great tradition that Irene has started. I’m hoping that everyone has a healthy 2017 and that we keep the beaches open for all to enjoy.
Cheers, or as Jimmy says cheers y’all.

Al Adam - 04-01-’17 08:10

That’s a funny response from Al Adam as he previously called out NPS as jackbooted Nazis and a waste of taxpayer dollars. He also called the UN Agenda 21 a sinister plot to depopulate the coastal areas and take away American freedom and liberty, although the agenda was signed by the US and virtually every developed nation. Hidden behind all that nice talk is an enirely different and extreme ideaology. Fair warning.

guest - 04-01-’17 21:20

Okay, maybe I went a little too far overboard on Al Adam. I’ve heard he is a good guy. He is just passionate in his beliefs, and like many of us are maneuvering out way through a very complicated Post Truth world. I am sorry for such wrongful personal dispargement and hyperbole. Please accept my apology, Mr. Adam.

guest - 07-01-’17 11:50
Al Adam

It’s OK guest, I pay no attention to what you say! Things and policies change but Agenda 21 is still the evil it was and has been even though they changed the name to confuse the low info folks! If we have a park administration that acts on behalf of the visitors in a reasonable and intelligent fashion it should be recognized as such. If they act like thugs it should be acknowledged. We will see reason returned to the DOI and it will enable the local adminidtrations to do as they are necessary to make the visitor experience pleasant for all while protecting the resource. Something that many of us believed to be possible all along. Cheers and happy new year, even to the doubters and koolaid drinkers!

Al Adam - 08-01-’17 09:12


Posting wrongful personal diparagement and hyperbole about those with whom you politically disagree is in large part why you have Donald Trump as your president.

It’s also partly responsible for your party holding a 100-year record low number of seats of power from the White House to the State House.

The good news is that recognizing the problem is the first step towards curing it.

MAGA - 08-01-’17 10:23

I don’t consider myself a Democrat . Do you consider yourself a Russian?

guest - 08-01-’17 13:31


No need to be coy. It’s a given that you pulled the lever for both Roy Cooper (D) and Hillary Clinton (D) on Nov. 8th.

And you’re way off-base on your accusation of who might be Russian sympathizers in this country, as the Communist Party USA endorsed Hillary for president on 10/25/16, remember?

Constantly diverting away from the inconvenient truths that face you is another reason why you have Donald Trump as your president.

MAGA - 09-01-’17 08:12

Russia is not a Communist country. Your response is either a “diversion” or an error.

Guest - 09-01-’17 11:55

Russia is a federation in name only, but you already knew that.

I can’t say that I blame you for continuing to talk about anything but the disaster that 8 years of Obama policies has brought to the Democratic party, and for your part in handing Donald Trump the keys to the nation.

Losing over 1,000 seats nationwide due to 8 years of gross political overreach, individual elitism and online name-calling has to be pretty hard to swallow.

MAGA - 09-01-’17 13:08

Russia is neither a federation as you said or a Communist country. Are you afraid to admit the truth about the Russian government and its leader? Can’t imagine why?

guest - 09-01-’17 15:51


Hmm, then why is Russia officially known as the “Russian Federation”, and the communist party within it known as the “Communist Party of the Russian Federation”?

To circle back, though, I consider you to be far closer to both the US Democratic party and the CP USA than I will ever be, particularly since the CP USA endorsed the twice failed presidential candidate that you voted for on November 8th.

Posting wrongful personal disparagement and hyperbole, diverting from the matters at hand, and never actually answering questions posed for you are part of why you have Donald Trump as your president.

MAGA - 09-01-’17 17:24

According to US Intel Russia didn’t hack voting machines. They might have hacked Dems e-mails, exposing the true nature of their operations. simple.

SalvoDog - 09-01-’17 19:43

Trump lie number one:
“I will repeal Obamacare my first day in office.”

It will soon be time to start calling the President to task. The disappointments will be endless.

guest - 09-01-’17 19:50

Obama Lie #1:

“I will close GITMO during my first 100 days in office”.

Obama Lie # 1,297:*

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it”.

(* Obama Lie # 1,297 was Politifact’s 2013 Lie of the Year, a presidential first!)

Not being honest about the dismal performance of the presidential candidate that you voted for twice is part of why you have Donald Trump as your president.

MAGA - 10-01-’17 07:50

Guest, Change of subject? Trolling?

SalvoDog - 10-01-’17 08:42

Maga and SalvoDog,

The switch to the Trump election was a Maga troll Look above.
Looks like Trump was compromised by the Russians and then he turned traitor. The news is out worldwide and from every source. It’s all blowing up right now. You were fooled by a con.

guest - 10-01-’17 18:20


Believing and spreading fake news, (along with not doing your civic duty by accepting the legally binding results of the election), are part of why Donald Trump will be sworn in as your president 10 days from now.

MAGA - 10-01-’17 20:56

Not that it matters but Maga’s wasn’t posted when I commented. Our new president has his faults like the rest of us but traitor? No. It’s ironic how “open minded” people suddenly change when things don’t go their way.

Dog - 11-01-’17 08:50

We are now beyond even Watergate. In time, Trump will resign or be impeached. The real issue now is Mike Pence. As president, will this self acknowledged religious man be able to stand behind the law and the US Constitution in deference to his evangelical beliefs and social mores. I don’t think he can do that. Let hope the press will now actually conduct investigative reporting instead of just featuring party surrogates.

guest - 11-01-’17 13:55

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