The race is on to save the Ocracoke Island landmark.

By Meghan Overdeep
May 17, 2021
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The second-oldest 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.

The iconic white lighthouse, which was battered by Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Dorian, currently sits just two 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. The public is invited to submit comments here. The comment period ends on May 28.

Stay tuned.