OBX residents say poorly designed drainage ditch destroyed their street, damaged homes

Posted at 9:47 PM, Jul 12, 2012

Hurricane Irene pummeled the Outer Banks last August, cutting inlets and wrecking houses. But in one cul-de-sac at the north end of Rodanthe, neighbors say something else dealt the most damaging blow. Something that helped the hurricane gush high-pressure flood water right into their court.

Neighbors blame a drainage canal behind their homes. They have sparred with the highway department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly a year.

Six months after NewsChannel 3 first told you about this battle, many are giving up the fight.

"We're not at a dead end," neighborhood vice president Wes Hutchinson wrote to us in an email. "But we are definitely stalled out."

He and other owners like Rich Hollenhorst say this ill-conceived canal cost them tens of thousands of dollars. Instead of drawing water off the highway, it worked in reverse, channeling high-pressure flood water from the sound right into their houses. The damage was surprising. Underground utilities chopped, concrete splintered, and a channel gurgled four-feet deep where once there was a road.

A few months ago, all of the houses were surrounded by a stagnant, steamy moat. Decks, pools and hot tubs were crumbled messes. Some houses leaned unsteady on their foundations.

Just to get to their houses, each owner had to pay for truckloads of sand to fill the trench and for new concrete.

The owners who had money left, chipped in to rebuild the association's blacktop court. One house still teeters, broken and vacant, above foul-smelling water.

The owners need an expert's study to prove their point; that could cost $10, 000.

"Most seem reluctant to spend more money and get involved in a lawsuit," Hutchinson wrote.

But Hollenhorst is willing.

“We`ll need a consensus from the homeowners. I wouldn`t want to carry the burden of the study all by myself. On the other hand, it seems to me like a reasonably good bet,” says Hollenhorst.

On maps, the canal looks harmless. But from the air, you can see how Irene used it to build an inlet. And during the storm, Hollenhorst says it became a scouring river that veered into their court.

“About half of our soil, our sand, was washed away to four feet below sea level,” says Hollenhorst.

Insurance paid to fix the houses, but nothing else. The moat is just a pond now. The canal is much wider, filled with debris from as many as three toppled houses. The homeowners say, at the very least, the state should pay for the study. Until everyone agrees on what happened here, they say the very next storm could do the very same thing.