Monday, January 10, 2011

Ocean Pearl Road Improvements in Carova

In sort of a Chicken-or-the-Egg process, the county continues to move forward with improving Ocean Pearl Road in Carova. Below is an article discussing one of the last components standing in the way.

On N.C. road, potholes are so big, they're wetlands

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 9, 2011

Which came first, wetlands or potholes?

Currituck County has planned for nearly four years to grade three miles of Ocean Pearl Road, a rough, sandy road in Carova Beach that serves as a main artery though the four-wheel-drive area.

But in recent meetings with environmental agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers told the county to mark and measure wetlands affected by the project up to 300 feet from both sides of the road. Including the 100-foot right of way on Ocean Pearl Road, the swath is 700 feet wide.

Currituck hired an expert who mapped more than 9 acres of wetlands along the road right of way. By federal definition, three pond-sized potholes in the road qualified as about one-tenth of an acre of wetlands.

The e stimated cost to fix the road and dig drainage swales on both sides is $300,000. The Corps of Engineers may also insist that the county mitigate or replace wetlands elsewhere, at double the roadwork cost, adding $637,316.

If the corps forces the county to mitigate the wetlands, the project climbs to nearly $1 million, a shock to Currituck officials.

"It's untenable to me that the corps can come in and call roads that were platted in the 1960s wetlands," said Currituck Commissioner Paul O'Neal. "It's unbelievable."

Currituck has applied for a permit to fill only the potholes without having to mitigate the other wetlands.

As part of the application, Currituck makes the point that old ditches near the roadbed haven't drained the existing wetlands.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has been asked to intervene for the county.

"They are not wetlands," O'Neal said. "They are mud puddles."

Wetlands were there before the road was, said Susan Clizbe, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers in Wilmington.

"The road runs through wetlands," she said.

The corps has not ruled on Currituck's permit, she said. Typically, applicants get three options -avoid the wetlands, minimize the effects on them, or mitigate them, she said.

The road needs fixing, O'Neal said.

"It's very important that we get this road restored," he said.

The county made attempts to create a road-improvement district in the communities of the four-wheel-drive area for about 20 years.

Residents were opposed to improvements, concerned that better roads would bring more people and more vehicles at higher speeds and put t he wild horses grazing along the roadside in danger.

But three years ago, residents agreed to improve a section of Ocean Pearl Road, only in Carova Beach, the northernmost community.

Ocean Pearl Road serves as an artery for emergency and construction vehicles and is the address for many high-end beach rentals. A fire and EMS station sits along Ocean Pearl Road.

Dozens of renters were stranded in 2006 and emergency vehicles could not get through after Tropical Storm Ernesto.

Along some roads, underground phone lines surfaced and were crushed by big tires, knocking out service to several homes.

Mud holes also tend to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.