Nags Head, North Carolina, is the ultimate vacation spot. The small resort town boasts picturesque views complete with miles of sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean as far as the eye can see. But there is a downside to North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks; every year, residents and tourists have to plan for Atlantic storms from June 1 to November 30, otherwise known as hurricane season. In September 2003, the violent Hurricane Isabel touched down on the shores of the Outer Banks with winds up to 105 mph, destroying thousands of homes and one of the area’s most beloved landmarks—Jennette’s Pier.
Originally built in 1939, Jennette’s Pier was the area’s first fishing pier and arguably one of its biggest tourist attractions. Considered the social center of the area in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, its unique positioning is at the exact waterfront location where the area’s three main highways meet—Highway 12 from the south, Route 158 from the north, and Route 64 from the west. According to Mike Remige, director of Jennette’s Pier, it was devastating when Hurricane Isabel destroyed the beloved and historical landmark. When the North Carolina Aquarium Society purchased Jennette’s Pier in conjunction with the North Carolina Aquariums in 2002, it was going to be used as an outreach site for the nearby Aquarium on Roanoke Island, but after Hurricane Isabel, new plans had to be developed.
Jenette’s Pier would be the first of three planned educational ocean fishing piers along North Carolina’s coast. Remige says that not rebuilding was not an option. “The old pier was entirely destroyed, but we saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate sustainable design,” Remige says. “Honestly we didn’t even know that a project like this could be LEED certified, but once we realized it could, we committed to pursuing it. And in April of 2012, we received Platinum . . . certification for new construction.”
The task was to make the pier hurricane-proof as well as environmentally friendly. The problem was that the building was not only in a hurricane-prone area but would extend out over the Atlantic Ocean. The contractors were out in the elements for two full years, during hurricane seasons and winters. Temperatures ranged between 30 and 100 degrees. Yet by the end, the Aquarium Society met its goal of creating a safe pier and educating the public about sustainability.
Hurricanes are going to have a hard time destroying Jennette’s Pier again. The steel-reinforced concrete structure is capable of withstanding a hurricane storm surge of 25 feet, and it has an equally impressive array of sustainable features. Three Bergey Excel-S wind turbines fulfill almost one quarter of the facility’s electric needs, and one of the pier’s shade pavilions is covered in photovoltaic panels that power some of the pier’s lights at night. The pier features a closed-loop geothermal HVAC system, 80 wells—each 200 feet deep—that circulate water to both heat and cool the building. And an on-site wastewater treatment facility helps the pier reduce its water use by up to 80 percent.
“I’ve been in this area for over 20 years, and I can’t tell you how proud I am that the state of North Carolina built something like this,” Remige says. “It’s such a gift to the community and an amazing educational tool. Kids like my daughter are growing up thinking of wind turbines and solar panels as a normal part of a building. Not only is that amazing, but it’s the way it should be.”