Press Release | May 25, 2023

Conservation groups urge action on Rodanthe collapsing houses

Letters ask government officials to address public health threats

RODANTHE, N.C. — As summer beach season begins, the Southern Environmental Law Center today sent letters, on behalf of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, to the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, urging them to address imminent threats to public health, welfare, and safety created by collapsing houses and abandoned septic tanks in the village of Rodanthe, North Carolina.

As the shoreline erodes and sea levels rise, houses that once stood inland are now precariously exposed on the wet sand beach. Since 2020, five houses have collapsed in Rodanthe near the seashore, littering North Carolina’s surf and shoreline with dangerous debris including nails, drywall, chemicals, sewage, and other household materials that could contain toxic substances. The collapses leave behind septic tanks that discharge concentrated human sewage onto the beach and into the ocean. And even before houses collapse, storms and high tides can leave their septic systems exposed, damaged, and leaking sewage onto the public beaches.

Both government agencies are responsible for eliminating these health hazards that threaten visitor safety and protecting the national seashore for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

“Government officials at every level have a responsibility to prevent dangerous hazards for the safety of locals and tourists alike on North Carolina’s coast,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The situation at Rodanthe is only getting worse with sea level rise and more intense storms from climate disruption.”

The letters urge the government agencies to address 1) the exposed and abandoned septic tanks, 2) public health threats posed by debris from past collapses, and 3) the risk caused by houses identified as most likely to collapse next. The letters state that these risks, in the face of climate change, must be addressed before another house falls.

“Immediate action is required to remove exposed septic systems and threatened oceanfront structures to prevent further degradation of the coastal environment and protect the safety and welfare of the public,” said Alyson Flynn, coastal advocate and environmental economist at the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “We support and implore our decisionmakers to use their authority to clean up our oceanfront and ensure that coastal management measures protect our coast.”

Over the past 40 years, the North Carolina Coastal Federation has worked alongside coastal communities to protect and restore the unique North Carolina coast. As a member supported non-profit the Coastal Federation’s goals are obtained through a variety of programs and partnerships with people from all walks of life. Through efforts for clean coastal waters, living shorelines, thriving oysters, effective coastal management, and marine debris removal, the Federation and North Carolina’s coastal communities continue to work together for a healthy coast!

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Rachel Chu

Communications Manager (SC)

Phone: 843-720-5270
Email: [email protected]

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]

Partner Contacts

Alyson Flynn

North Carolina Coastal Federation

Phone: 252-473-1607 x 302
Email: [email protected]