Two years after fatal boating accident, light will mark Cape Fear River quarantine site

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By Brian Slattery

An abandoned quarantine station at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Southport now has a light to warn boaters of the concrete slab in the water.

The 19th century station was the site of a 2012 boating accident that caused one death and several injuries.

According to reports, on Aug. 4, 2012, Ed and Barbara Lee Pierce of Wilmington and two other passengers were in the Pierce’s boat heading to Wilmington when they rammed into the concrete platform.

Barbara Pierce was killed in the accident while the other three were taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center to treat their injuries.

Last year, around the anniversary of the accident, Congressman Mike McIntyre sent a letter to United States Coast Guard, Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., pointing out the structure is an incredibly dangerous impediment to boaters in the area.

He requested the US Coast Guard remove the remains of an abandoned quarantine station or make it more identifiable.

But he was told removing a concrete slab from the Cape Fear River is out of the USCG control.

McIntyre received a response Oct. 28 from Rear Admiral Steven Poulin, governmental and public affairs director stating the concrete slab, all that remains of the abandoned quarantine station that was used in the late 1800’s, was not marked because it is a considerable distance outside the navigable channel.

“The obstruction referred to in your letter is located 165 yards outside the boundaries of the Cape Fear River’s marked navigable channel, and has been in this same location since 1895,” Poulin wrote.

He added the remnants of the quarantine area are clearly depicted on national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charts of the area.

Poulin offered that if the state or other public or private entity decided to mark or remove the structure, the Coast Guard would provide technical assistance.

Pierce continued to work to have the concrete slab marked for other boaters, filing a Private Aids to Navigation Application with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the USCG.

According to a statement released by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn, Coast Guard 5th District Public Affairs, the applicant obtained permission from the 5th District commander to establish a Private Aid to Navigation to mark the platform in July.

“The Coast Guard review and approval process ensures the characteristics of a private aid to navigation conform to the standard U.S. system to aids. The light's installation, maintenance and operation is done solely by and at the expense of the operator,” Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn also provided the Local Notice to Mariners that said, “on (Aug. 3, 2014) Cape Fear River Warning Light (LLNR 30477/40017) will be established … The aid marks an unlit structure just outside the Cape Fear River Channel.

McIntyre was contacted for comment after the light approval was announced.

McIntyre applauded the announcement from U.S. Coast Guard that it approved the private aid to navigation application, filed by Ed Pierce, clearing the way for him to install a special light on the remaining structure of an abandoned quarantine station upriver from Southport.

“I hope that the new special lighting on the platform will improve the safety of all those who travel our waterways!” McIntyre said

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.