Environmentalists often oppose so-called beach renourishment. They argue it's a multimillion-dollar Band-Aid against nature's will and that the projects kill sea creatures unlucky to be near the dredge intakes. They also say poorly planned projects can leave behind packed-down sand that prevents protected sea turtles from digging nests.
Refilling the gaps on the fastest eroding part of the state's shoreline also would take a huge amount of sand that may stay only a few months, said East Carolina University research professor Stanley Riggs, who studies the state's coastal geology.
"If there's a bad place to put a road, it's where Highway 12 is right now," Riggs said. "Even if they fix that little piece they're talking about right now, there's another 20 miles down the banks that are just as vulnerable as this spot."
Many island residents are just as adamant that replacing lost beachfront can't be avoided any longer.
"Every storm that comes now seems to cause more damage than we had before. I know some people attribute that to global warming," said Tim Morgan, a pharmacist who co-owns two independent drugstores. He lives on a Buxton street where the two homes closest to the ocean were condemned after Sandy.
"But we also don't do anything to maintain the distance from the road to the breaking waves. We don't do anything to pump that sand back in there," he said.
To a taxpayer who would balk at again fixing a fragile road in perpetual need of repair, then paying more to beef up the beach, Morgan replies: "Unless they're going to move everyone off this island, it will cost him less in the long run to maintain the beach than to maintain the road."
Local officials are already working on developing an estimate for plugging holes in the natural dune dyke, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said.
Sandy did little property damage along a 10-mile stretch of rebuilt beach in Nags Head, just north of Hatteras Island, completed for $37 million, he said. The county is paying the project's cost from occupancy taxes collected from millions of tourists a year. A Hatteras Island project would likely cost more, but larger barriers would come from securing permission from state coastal regulators and the federal government, which runs a wildlife refuge and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore along most of the island, Outten said.
"We've got to do something," Outten said. "We do need to fix it and we do need to have some sort of a permanent-access solution so that we're not dealing with this every summer" when hurricanes threaten and tourist visits peak.