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A Year in Review – the Stories that Grabbed our Attention in 2017

Friday 15 December 2017 at 11:24 pm.

By JOY CRIST

It’s that time of year again when we carry on Irene’s annual tradition of looking back at the stories that grabbed – and held – our attention in 2017.

And this was certainly a busy year that was filled with unforeseen crises, ongoing projects, controversial legislation, and one particular infamous sandbar. (Guess which one?)

So let’s get right down to business, and start with what was easily one of the most nationally covered stories of our local year…

Shelly Island Sandbar

So I don’t know if you heard about this, but apparently in the late spring, a sandbar surfaced just off of Cape Point.

Many islanders were in disbelief that the news of a “new island,” and a striking drone photo taken by visitor Chad Koczera, truly went viral.

National and international papers picked the story up within days, and the newly designated “Shelly Island” brought waves of visitors to the Cape Point all summer long.

And the story didn’t just last a news cycle or two either, because the story kept changing. There was a short evacuation due to an old unexploded ordnance washing up on the beach. The island disappeared, then reappeared after a series of storms. And there were questions about ownership, and jurisdiction, and what constituted an island, and all the while hordes of beachcombers clamored out there day after day for the namesake piles of shells - (yours truly included.)

At time of publication, Shelly Island was still there, sort of. The sandbar/island/what-have-you is more or less connected to Cape Point now, with a large saltwater pond in the center. But if there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to our island surroundings, it’s that things will change. And we likely haven’t reached the end of the Shelly Island saga just yet.

The Power Outage

Thursday, July 27, was literally a dark day for islanders.

On that morning, locals and visitors woke up to find that there was a Hatteras and Ocracoke Island-wide power outage, and by that afternoon, we learned that it could be an extended outage that lasted more than just a few hours.

And it certainly did. Attributed to a cut cable at the Bonner Bridge site by PCL Construction, the power outage forced a mandatory evacuation of visitors. Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative crews brought in an additional 15 or so portable generators to provide power to the residents that remained, and for a week, vacationers and islanders waited while repairs were conducted.

Power was finally restored a week later, and the evacuation was lifted on August 4, but the damage to local income – with businesses losing a prime summertime week - had been done.

The Bridge – Or Rather, All of the Bridges

No more will islanders experience the familiar “BA BUMP” that signifies the entry to the former Lego Bridge at Irene’s Inlet.

In mid-November, the new Pea Island Interim Bridge opened to the public, which provides a safer, faster, and less vehicle-jarring crossing over the former inlet that opened after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

And there was plenty of progress at the Bonner Bridge site as well. Islanders watched as new spans of the bridge were connected high in the air, and entry ramps were formed at either side of the new Bonner Bridge. Meanwhile, a lawsuit plagued the proposed Jug Handle Bridge that bypasses the S-Curves, but the project looks to be ontrack for its March 2018 starting date.

So expect the bridge projects to be on the list for 2018. With the Jug Handle Bridge on the horizon, and the Bonner Bridge expected to be completed by the fall of 2018, this is a story that will no doubt continue in the months and even years to come.

Buxton Beach Nourishment

In the summer of 2017, five beach nourishment projects were implemented along the coastline of Dare County in the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Buxton.

But it’s the Buxton one that is still very much in progress.

The Buxton Beach Nourishment project is still ongoing, and has hit a lot of barriers since it first began in June. From dredge repairs, to unusually high seas in the summer, to a month full of storms in September, the project has been a slow process for Buxton residents who are eager to have a little breathing room in between their homes and the ocean. As of November 30, more than half (52%) of the project had been completed, but like so many other stories this year, islanders can expect this topic to remain in the news for a good chunk of 2018 as well.

Cape Point Stays Open All Summer

Both man-made and natural factors contributed to Cape Point staying open all summer long to ORVs for the first time in roughly a decade.

Though Cape Point was technically closed for almost two hours in July when an unexploded ordnance washed ashore on the Shelly Island sandbar, the beach otherwise remained open for ORVs, thanks to nesting factors, established ORV corridors, and years-long efforts by local organizations.

The changes to the ORV management plan, which were propelled by years of tireless work by the OBPA, NCBBA and the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, played a huge role in continual access for beach-goers. Coupled with new partnerships with the National Park Service, (specifically the OBPA sponsored “Pack it in, Pack it out” campaign), 2017 was a good year for beach access.

Plastic Bags

In February of 2017, the issue of repealing the plastic bag ban that had been instated on the Outer Banks since 2009 first came to the surface. And from there, the repeal had a strange and winding track to its eventual approval.

Though the repeal popped up in several proposed bills, it was eventually included in a broader environmental bill, House Bill 56, which passed the state House and Senate by August 31. It was then repealed by Governor Roy Cooper, but the repeal was eventually overturned by the North Carolina General Assembly on October 4 during a special session.

The repeal had support from state organizations like the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, but was panned locally by the Dare County Board of Commissioners and the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.

Today, the plastic bag ban is gone, however a majority of local stores have opted not to switch to plastic bags just yet. Some have outright said they will stick to paper, while others – like Food Lion – haven’t made a decision yet on whether to switch. Time will tell if Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands will remain relatively plastic bag-free in the months to come.

A September of Storms

We did not have a devastating storm in 2017 – not like 2016’s Matthew – but islanders did have a full month of hurricanes brushing our local coastlines, which included a multiple day evacuation from September 24 / 25 until September 28 during Hurricane Maria.

Soundside flooding, oceanside erosion, and heavy rains were all hallmarks of September as Irma, Jose, and Maria all got dangerously close to our coast. Luckily, impacts were fairly minimal, (comparatively speaking), and the highly active 2017 hurricane season bypassed most of the Outer Banks.

The Passenger Ferry

A project that has been in the works for several years, the new Hatteras / Ocracoke Passenger ferry inched closer to its summer 2018 implementation date. The $4.15 million catamaran-style ferry that can carry 98 passengers per run will connect visitors with Ocracoke village, bringing more business onto the island. While concerns remain about the potential population swell in the already busy vacation destination, the new service has the potential to reduce traffic congestion while generating renewed interest in Ocracoke and Hatteras villages.

The Loss of Irene Nolan

This is the story that affected our IFP team the most, because Irene is missed every single day.

She is deeply missed by all of us at Island Free Press, and by everyone on Hatteras Island and beyond who knew her, or who felt like they knew her through her brilliant, thoughtful, and always insightful writing.

Our co-founder and editor passed away on March 3, and it was a heartbreaking blow to all of us. Our immediate goal at the time was to keep the paper going exactly the way Irene would want, and we’ve tried our best to adhere to this goal ever since.

On a personal note, I still have her number stored in my phone. (I can’t delete it.) And I have accidentally tried to call it more times than I would like to admit to ask for advice, or help, or just to pitch an idea to see if it was “newsworthy.” Irene was an unparalleled journalist, a community icon, and an irreplaceable mentor, and I’m so grateful for the 15 years that I was lucky enough to work with her, though I wish it were much, much more.

And there were so many stories that Irene would have loved this year! I can imagine her shaking her head with a wry look when Shelly Island took over national headlines, or smiling when Cape Point was officially declared open all year long. She had a delicious sense of humor that bordered on snark, but which was never unkind, and I could picture this too when I made mistakes, like posting the headline “Potential Tropical Cyclone 10 Inches Closer to the Outer Banks.” (I was using “inches” as a verb, and I didn’t catch the other way the headline read, but Irene would have – and she would have gently pointed it out while trying very hard not to crack up.)

Donna, Rhonda, Nicole, myself, and everyone at Island Free Press are always envisioning her input and reactions to events, to stories we’ve posted, to our readers’ comments – and it keeps us close to Irene.

The paper she loved and worked tirelessly for will forever be a tribute to what she created out of thin air, and we promise to continue our efforts to make sure the IFP lives up to her justifiably high standards. If you’re going to copy someone, you copy the best.

To make a long story short, (although it’s far too late for that), Irene was the heart and soul of the Island Free Press. And I assure you, she still is.

And from all of us at IFP who miss her every day, Thank You – all of you - for helping us keep Irene’s brilliantly realized dream going. It’s because of you that we hit some unique plateaus this year. We had the highest ever number of visitors in a single day (142,305) when the Shelly Island ordnance story broke, and we’ve had 1,846,687 visits to date this year.

We attribute our success to you – our advertisers, our readers, and everyone who shares the Island Free Press, and who loves Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.

So Thank You! With your help, we will keep Irene’s legacy going strong for years to come.

two comments

Bud

Here on Hatteras during the so called ‘blackout’. Power was off for less than 36 hours! It was only an inconvenience. The result was the absolute best week of the summer.

Bud - 19-12-’17 15:34
diver531

Ok … not being mean or whatever else people might think …. Joy … I think it’s time for a grown up pic of you to post as part of this outstanding news outlet . Kudos to all who have done a great job !

diver531 - 19-12-’17 19:41




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