Local News

Fran Long-Gone; Massive Debris Remains

Posted February 28, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Although the sound of hammers and saws is often heard as Topsail's homes and businesses are rebuilt, a nearby marsh may never be put back as it was before September 5, 1997 -- the day Hurricane Fran came to town.

Air conditioners, tires, washing machines, a piano and even two houses are still sitting in the sounds and marshes between Topsail Beach and the mainland as reminders of Fran.

Several agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, think it's probably wise to leave the debris in the marshes and let nature take its toll.

The beach towns are cleaning up the canals and soundside shoreline, but the homes, walkways and other debris in the marsh areas may have to stay for a while -- or forever.

``The stuff in the marsh and wetlands is not on the towns' land,'' said Jay Eaker, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Much of it is private property. "It would be best left in the marsh to naturally decay," Eaker said. "It'll do less environmental damage that way than taking a whole bunch of bulldozers over there."

But with tourist season only weeks away, area residents are concerned about the debris that litters the area. The debris washed up in an 11 foot wall of seawater that carried a wide range of items from the garages and carports found under many beach homes, and from streets and business areas.

But it's not just that the debris is unsightly. Included, besides outdoor grills, porch furniture, lumber, broken glass panes, pieces of roof and door, flowerpots and the occasional doghouse, are hazardous waste items like liquid propane gas tanks, and containers of charcoal lighter fluid, lawn chemicals and household cleaners.

Alton Lane, a local resident, told WRALTV-5 News that he would like to see the water clean before he puts his boat in it.

Topsail Beach Town Manager Eric Peterson called the FEMA decision ludicrous. He cited the breakdown of containers, either by rust or punctures. "When that stuff starts rusting, you don't want it leaking out," he said at a town meeting Tuesday night.

Beach officials have been told FEMA won't pay to clean up the marsh areas. The N.C. Disaster Field Office is appealing the decision, Peterson said.

Officials with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management have concerns about using heavy equipment in a marsh or wetland area.

"It might do more harm than good," said spokesman Alison Davis. "It would just have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis."

Debris from the island was carried into the sound and marsh areas during the hurricane's storm surge, Peterson said.

"This is a pristine environment. The last thing you want is a bunch of waste over there."