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On-the-Water Phase of Federation’s Southeast Office Move Complete

There she goes!

The new, permanent home of the southeast regional office of the N.C. Coastal Federation made its roughly mile-and-a-half journey via barge yesterday to the plot it will call home in Wrightsville Beach.

N.C. Coastal Federation member Dale Smith watches from his kayak as the federation’s new home is placed on a barge for transport. Photo: Karen Dunne
After it was moved onto a barge, the historic Palmgren-O’Quinn house, a sprawling cottage built in 1946 along Banks Channel, was pushed by tug boat in less than an hour from Harbor Island to a lot within Wrightsville Beach’s historic square.“Finding a permanent home for the federation’s southeast region has been a long-term goal,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate with the federation. “We’ve been looking for a place for quite a while.”With no permanent home, the southeast regional office has moved to different places around Wilmington over the years. For the past three years, staffers have shared a three-room rental office consisting of 800 square feet in Wrightsville Beach.

The lack of space has all but prohibited the staff from offering educational outreach to the community onsite, a core part of the conservation nonprofit’s mission.

“Where we are right now, we can’t practice what we preach,” Giles said.

That will change when the staff – three permanent employees, two special project employees and rotating interns – moves into the 2,800 square-foot house.

Sherrie West, a grandchild of the original owners, spent many summers in the house. Here she celebrates its new incarnation as the federation’s new office. Photo: Sarah Gilliam

“After they move the house tonight, the real work and fun begin,” Giles said Wednesday.

Bedrooms will be converted into offices. Bathrooms will be renovated to be handicap-accessible. The home’s master bedroom will become an educational center.

The house’s lower level had to be removed because of flood elevation requirements, leaving an open space for general use. The home’s rooms will be given different names after coastal geological features. The main entrance, which will be the reception area, has already been dubbed the Masonboro Room.

“It will be a place where people can come and have meetings, events or weddings,” Giles said. “Since it’s a historic house we’ll be able to offer cultural heritage educational opportunities, which is something we’ve never done before. And, since we’ll be neighbors with the museum, we’d like to offer them the opportunity to hold tours in the house. We want to be interconnected.”

The house had been in the O’Quinn family for more than 40 years when owners – former Wrightsville Beach mayor Robert O’Quinn and his wife, Catherine – decided to sell to their neighbors, Debbie and Mark Mitchell.

When Catherine O’Quinn heard the federation was looking for permanent office space, she asked the Mitchells to donate the home, which they had planned to demolish to make room for a bigger house. The house was donated last year.

The federation’s new home makes its way through the Heidi Trask Drawbridge Wednesday, June 19. Photo: Trista Talton

The home had to be moved via water because of the live oak tree cover on Harbor Island, so it was barged through Banks Channel, Motts Channel, up the Intracoastal Waterway, through the Heidi Trask Drawbridge and up Lee’s Cut.

The house’s new location will be in the historic square, property owned by the U.S. Department of Interior and managed by the town. It is exclusively for nonprofit organizations and is already home to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History and the town’s visitor centers.

The federation has a $1-a-year, 30-year lease with the town, which is donating sewer and water service.

The federation hired Expert House Movers, the Chesapeake, Va.-based company that moved the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, to relocate the home.

The moving company lifted the house onto green, steel beams supported by sets of wheels on Tuesday, June 18. On Wednesday, the house was slowly moved onto the barge, which was locked in place by tall, steel pins.

Once a crane aboard the barge lifted the pins, the yellow tug “Roughneck”, operated by Atlantic Diving and Marine Contractors out of Wilmington, fired up its engine, ready to pull away from the bulkhead.

The federation’s future home in the southeast region floats down the ICW to its new site. Photo: Trista Talton

As the tug chugged through the channel on-lookers stood along manicured lawns to snap pictures and film video. A steady congregation of boaters and kayakers floated alongside the barge.

Banners draped on the side of the gray house, with a spacious front porch and numerous windows, read “Future Home of … N.C. Coastal Federation.”

The estimated cost to move the house: $200,000 to $250,000. Another estimated $300,000 to $350,000 will be spent in renovations. The home will be moved from the private lot on which it is currently resting to its new location today, June 20.

A little more than 25 percent of the funds to cover those costs has already been raised, Giles said. More than 20 business sponsors are offering giveaways and discounts of up to 20 percent throughout the week in conjunction with the move.

“We’re well on our way,” he said, “and we thank everyone who has generously helped us get this far.”

The staff hopes to move into the renovated home late this year.

About the Author

Trista Talton

Trista Talton is a native North Carolinian who, shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University in 1996, took her first newspaper job as a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She has since migrated to the coast, covering everything from education and local governments to law enforcement, the environment and the military, including an embed with Marines in Kuwait for the start of the Iraq war in 2003. She has been a Coastal Review Online contributing writer since 2011 focusing on coastal-related issues from Onslow to Brunswick counties. She lives with her husband and two sons in Jacksonville.