With Hurricane Irma looming, fast-thinking businessman files claim on NC’s new island

View the new island formed in NC's Outer Banks

A new island has formed off the tip of Cape Point in the constantly changing Outer Banks. Named Shelly Island, the sandbar is about a mile long and three football fields wide.
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A new island has formed off the tip of Cape Point in the constantly changing Outer Banks. Named Shelly Island, the sandbar is about a mile long and three football fields wide.

Hurricane Irma’s push to the north means North Carolina’s newly formed Shelly Island could vanish in a siege of wind and waves. But that isn’t stopping a quick-thinking Virginia businessman from claiming he owns it.

Kenneth M. Barlow has filed a Quit Claim Deed to the 10-month-old island, despite expert opinions that it’s owned by North Carolina for the time being.

Barlow, who lives outside of Richmond, filed the claim with the Dare County Register of Deeds on Aug. 7. It cost him just $26, which is cheap for a nearly mile-long island … or sandbar, as some insist. The deed gives him “all right, title, interest and claim” to the island.

“I own this island now. That argument is over,” said Barlow, 59, who is a critic of the National Park Service’s regulation policies on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “I’ll fight them all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to. The laws are simple. Ownership has been decided. I’m notifying them (the National Park Service) to stay off my property.”

His plan for the island?

“I’m not going to do a thing with it,” Barlow says. “My motivation is to keep it out of the hands of the National Park Service and its policies, which have proven to be incompetent.”

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is aware of Barlow’s claim and is not commenting on it. Park Superintendent David Hallac has told the Observer the island belongs to either the state or the National Park Service, depending on whether it stays an island or connects to land.

It’s currently being treated as property of North Carolina, under the jurisdiction of Dare County, he says. If the channel fills in and it connects to Hatteras Island, it will likely be the property of the National Park Service, Hallac says.

Dare County manager Robert Outten also disagrees with Barlow’s claim. He cites state statutes (North Carolina General Statute 146-d), which say islands formed by nature in navigable waters are the state’s property.

“I’m not sure if the state and the National Park Service have decided who actually owns it yet,” Outten says, “but I understand that they agree that it’s one or the other.”

That isn’t discouraging Barlow, who is an avid sportsman and boater. He agrees that the island is in the domain and jurisdiction of Dare County and North Carolina, but they don’t own it. “The state law talks about ‘navigable’ waters, and the waters aren’t navigable there,” he says.

Barlow, who is an independent contractor, has already begun planting sea oats on the island to keep the sand piling up, and he will soon add coastal cedar. He has also taken out a liability insurance policy and is putting up signs warning people that they tread the island at their own risk.

Experts say hurricane season could easily wipe out the island, but Barlow doesn’t believe it. He says it’s now 100 acres and growing daily. Islands in that area have grown and disappeared for decades, he says, but none ever got this big.

Shelly Island began forming last fall, with the help of winds and currents that pushed up the crescent shaped sandbar around Cape Point.

Since then, it has continued to grow. Experts say it could suddenly disappear in a strong enough storm. That means Hurricane Irma – or the next hurricane to pass through – could decide the question of who owns Shelly Island.