River Bulkheads Need Massive Repair

Wilmington, NC – Sinkholes in the parking lot of Wilmington's Hilton Riverside originally alerted city officials to a problem with the decades-old retaining wall that forms the riverbank.

But when divers slipped under the Cape Fear River, they got an eyeful, according to Construction Manager Dave Cowell. Cowell says they found two blocks of corroded metal, leaking soil into the river.

"So that if you strike it with a hammer, the hammer could penetrate... the wall. So it's life expectancy is not great."

The repair bill for fixing the bulkheads under the northern riverfront is estimated at $5 million.

Wilmington officials are talking with the Hilton about whether the hotel will bear a portion of the costs. While the parking lot is owned by the company, the shoreline that supports that portion of the riverwalk is city property.

Much of this section of bulkhead was put in place by private developers during the original construction of the hotel.

City Councilman Jason Thompson says he doesn't understand why the city has to repair bulkheads holding up property vital to the privately-owned Hilton Riverside.

"But if we do have to make these repairs, then I think we ought to look at incorporate that into a park or something else, because like I say, it's one of the most expensive improvement projects we have outside of water and sewer."

The Hilton parking lot is across the street from the Water Street Deck, a portion of which, the city is trying to buy for a public park.

Cowell says his department hopes to have secured a contract for the repairs by later this spring. The repairs themselves will require building new bulkheads a few feet further into the river from the old ones and filling in behind the space.