Rising Seas Have Park Service Mulling Move Of Historic Outer Banks Lighthouse

The race is on to save the Ocracoke Island landmark.

The second-oldest operating lighthouse in America is in danger.

Threatened by severe storms, rising sea levels, and centuries of wear and tear, the National Park Service is trying to figure out what to do with the 200-year-old Ocracoke Lighthouse.

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
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The iconic white lighthouse, which was battered by Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Dorian, currently sits just feet above sea level with the water table just inches below the surface.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, water levels on North Carolina's remote Ocracoke Island have risen nine inches since 1977 and could rise another two feet in the next 30 years.

"The writing is on the wall, the tides keep getting higher," Amy Howard, chairperson of the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority, told The Virginian-Pilot.

But the encroaching sea is only part of the problem. Though still operational, the lighthouse's brick structure is also deteriorating from moisture trapped by a coat of concrete applied to its exterior nearly 70 years ago.

The Park Service is now seeking community input on a number of options, including whether to repair the structure as is, elevate and repair it, or relocate it to a higher elevation.

The work is expected to cost millions.

"We're putting everything on the table," Dave Hallac, superintendent of National Parks of Eastern North Carolina, told The Virginian-Pilot, adding that the lighthouse can survive high water where it stands, but it could ruin the house, outbuildings, and boardwalk.

"We'd prefer to see it restored the way it is now," Howard told the newspaper.

The path forward for the historic lighthouse will be decided based on cost and community opinion.

Stay tuned.

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  1. National Park Service. Ocracoke light station - Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

  2. Riggs SR, Culver SJ, Ames DV, Mallinson DJ, Corbett DR, Walsh JP. North Carolina’s Coasts in Crisis: A Vision for the Future. Institute for Coastal Science and Policy, East Carolina University; 2008. https://tamug-ir.tdl.org/handle/1969.3/28777.

  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2022 sea level rise technical report.

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