NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (AP) — Rising seas are pushing the Cape Fear River over its banks and into Battleship Park more and more frequently. But a grant has put the Battleship North Carolina nearly a fourth of the way toward its goal of protecting itself for years to come.
The Battleship announced it has been awarded a $400,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a fund established by the N.C. General Assembly to protect and restore natural resources. The grant will go toward the Battleship's Living with Water project, a $2 million effort to protect the ship and surrounding park from worsening flooding. Battleship staff planned the project with engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Beaufort office.
Battleship Capt. Terry Bragg said this first grant will go toward design and engineering. The next priority is a living shoreline along the ship's basin, followed by a constructed wetland near the parking lot.
Currently, the basin has what's known as a hardened shoreline, in this case massive concrete blocks installed at the water's edge in the 1980s. A living shoreline would replace those with vegetation and natural landscaping that mirrors the existing marsh.
Beyond the shoreline, a new wetland will be dug into the existing field, creating still more space for floodwaters to go.
According to NASA's Sea Level Change resource, the global mean sea level is rising 3.3 millimeters per year — more than 40 millimeters, about 1.5 inches, since the start of 2010. In low-lying areas like Battleship Park, already vulnerable to tides, even small increases are noticeable.
"When I arrived, my primary challenge was the restoration of the Battleship and her hull," Bragg said. "That was the primary directive for a number of years, and then in about the 2015 timeframe, I noticed that our world was starting to change at a very pronounced rate."
With the park flooding more frequently, staff had to cut back night visits for the haunted ghost ship event. Concerts had to be canceled. The annual easter egg hunt, scheduled during the flood-heavy days of spring, became harder to schedule. Two rows of live oak trees in the parking lot drowned from the water inundation.
So, Bragg studied the flood records. A flood in the area is defined as water 5.5 feet or more above the mean water level.
In the entire decade of the 1940s, the area that would one day become Battleship Park flooded six times. Between 2010 and 2015, it flooded 92 times.
Bragg said in 2018 alone, the park recorded 101 flood events.
Bracing for the future
While last year saw record rainfall in the region, including from Hurricane Florence, Bragg said the flooding happened throughout the year. So far, 2019's rainfall in the Wilmington area is more than 5 inches below normal, but even on a sunny, late summer day, the parking lot was flooded at high tide.
Bragg said that whatever political sensitivities people have in talking about climate change, the reality is seeping into Battleship Park.
"It may have always had flooding, but now it's affecting business operations," he said. "It is real."
As for the remaining $1.6 million needed for Living with Water, Bragg said the Battleship has grant applications in to multiple entities, including the National Fish and Wildlife Association. He's hopeful to hear back from several of them within the next three to six months.
Bragg said the changes at Battleship Park are designed to protect the area for years to come.
"Once you go through the design and engineering, you'll have permitting done, and then you'll be able to do repairs to an existing structure," he said, "which is a lot easier than starting at ground zero."
Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com