At high tide, the parking lot of Battleship North Carolina, one of Wilmington’s top landmarks, is often flooded under several feet of water.
The flooding has gotten worse since the battleship arrived in the Port City in 1961 – one study showed a 7,000% increase in tidal flooding since then. Now, the Battleship will embark on a series of upgrades that aim to mitigate the persistent coastal flooding.
Capt. Terry Bragg, who's served as Battleship NC’s executive director since 2009, said he began to notice the impacts of flooding around 2015. It was then that he began tracking the frequency of flooding in the Battleship’s parking lot.
He found the area was seeing an uptick in flooding events compared to previous decades. Bragg attributes that increase in flooding to the impact of climate change on rising water levels, dredging of the Cape Fear River and the release of more water into the river from inland lakes.
Battleship North Carolina launched its Living with Water initiative in 2018. After considering a range of approaches, the Battleship selected California-based engineering firm Moffat and Nichol to design the project.
First, the Battleship will convert two acres of its parking lot into wetlands that will help absorb any floodwaters. The newly formed wetland will be separated from the parking lot by a tidal creek aimed at redirecting flooding back into the Cape Fear River.
The Battleship also plans to raise the rest of the parking lot by two or three feet, depending on its grade, Bragg said. Finally, the initiative aims to replace 800 feet of hardened, eroding berth with a living shoreline to provide a more natural transition between land and water. (A rendering of the plans is shown below.)
The Battleship will award the bid for the project’s construction later this week. The construction is expected to take eight months, Bragg said.
The project is being paid for through a mix of public, private and nonprofit funding, including close to $3 million from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and $1 million included in this year’s North Carolina budget.
The Living with Water initiative is the last of three phases in the Battleship NC’s Generations Campaign. Previous phases helped fund $2.5 million in hull repairs for the Battleship along with an $8.5 million cofferdam, memorial walkway and educational exhibits.
The drainage and infrastructure upgrades will give Battleship NC some “breathing room” when it comes to more frequent flooding, Bragg said, but more investment will be needed in future years. He expects rising water levels to have increasing impacts on the Battleship, the Cape Fear River’s western bank and downtown Wilmington.
“The best I can do is snapshot time and project out 15 to 20 years, but the battleship is been around 63 years already,” Bragg said. “I think we're riding a wild bronco here.”