Ocracoke Update:  Life without a highway
January 10, 2008

Businesses and vendors are going the extra mile to get supplies to Ocracoke


Living on an island teaches you to appreciate the availability of the extra things often taken for granted in the “outside” world. At the same time, you learn to differentiate between what you need and what you want because of the limited availability of certain items on Ocracoke. Even in the middle of July when the island is at its peak, you cannot buy a fresh doughnut, slip into a cool movie theater, run your car through a carwash, or purchase a mattress on Ocracoke.
So, you learn to get back to basics -- food, water, and shelter. And this winter, with our northern highway lifeline off limits while the seven bridges are being replaced, major accommodations have been made with food, beverage, and building supply vendors to make sure the residents of Ocracoke are provided for.

Some of the major food supply vendors for Ocracoke are SYSCO, US Food Service, Jennette Brothers, and Atlantic Dominion. In order to continually serve Ocracoke this winter, each company made arrangements to travel through Swan Quarter for deliveries or utilize four-wheel drive vehicles and make the trip down the beach detour. In other cases, businesses on the island have met supply trucks down at the north end ferry or on the Hatteras side to make sure that supplies are here for residents and the trickle of visitors.

Megan Vayette, US Food Service representative for Ocracoke and Hatteras, is going the extra mile, or rather 3.3 miles, to make sure the company’s customers are served.

“We deliver in the off-season once a week to Ocracoke on Thursdays, and we have two customers right now -- Jason’s and the Ocracoke School,” said Vayette. “I’m using my 4-Runner to transport the order down from Hatteras with freezer blankets, dry ice, and freezer packs. I had a pretty big order this week, which was the first one, but I had no problem driving on the beach or fitting it in.”

One of the positives of this planned project is the time that officials, businesses, and residents had to plan and make arrangements for this 75-day limited availability to the north. With over a year of planning, everyone had ample opportunity to prepare.

“I order from about 25 vendors year-round,” said Tommy Hutcherson, proprietor of the Variety Store, the local grocery store open seven days a week. “In some way, shape, or form, the product is getting here.”

There have been some days where it is easier to meet the trucks in Hatteras, especially for light loads.

“It has definitely been a challenge,” said Hutcherson, who is also a member of the Ocracoke Control Group. “I felt like there was major planning involved to take care of these arrangements for supplies, and it seems smooth for now.”

Jason’s, the only restaurant open for business during the beach detour, serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

“We depend on a few different vendors," said Jason Wells, proprietor of the restaurant. “They have been very cooperative and willing to deliver, even driving on the beach if they have to.”

The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) campus, now set up in the old Coast Guard Station on the harbor, is also adjusting to this winter’s alternate routes.

“That’s been one of my fears,” said Misty Walker, Ocracoke campus coordinator for NCCAT. “If the ferry doesn’t run and we’re expecting a delivery of food that day, we would have a problem.”

This could happen any time of the year with the wind and weather determining on- and off-island travel for Ocracoke, but especially now. Their first seminar of 2008 will begin next week, and NCCAT hadn’t worked out a set schedule with the vendors yet.

“We certainly maximized our storage space, but it’s still limited when thinking that far ahead,” said Walker. When the week-long seminars are being held at the campus, the food staff feeds 26 people, three meals a day.

Coastal Beverage Co., which was scheduled was supposed to make its first delivery during the detour today, plans to come once a month. The company’s plans were detoured this morning when the delivery truck showed up at the Swan Quarter ferry docks. The truck was too tall to load the M/V Governor Hyde ferry.

“We could have loaded it on there, but once they were on Ocracoke, they would not have been able to get back off because of the steeper incline at that dock,” said Mitchell Newman, Swan Quarter ferry office. “They could have taken the 9:30 ferry, the M/V Silver Lake, over but that would mean having to spend the night in order to get back on that same ferry tomorrow. The other option would have been to go down to Cedar Island.”
Nash Finch, another food delivery truck, was re-routed to Cedar Island.
“The plan is to take that truck back to the Elizabeth City warehouse, unload onto a side-delivery truck, which is a little shorter, and then try again tomorrow,” said Steve Banks, representative for Coastal Beverage. “Our customers include Jason’s, the Variety Store, the Gas Station, and Zillie’s. If that once-a-month schedule doesn’t work, we are willing to amend it.”

Vendors and delivery trucks have been encouraged to use the Swan Quarter ferry route during the bridge replacement project. In order to come and go on the same day, they have to be on the 7 a.m. ferry in order to take the 12:30 or 4 p.m. ferries back. "The two larger ferries will be switched to the Swan Quarter route to accommodate the vendors and delivery trucks," reported Jack Cahoon, director of the Ferry Division. "That should be implemented today or tomorrow."  The Ocracoke Gas Station, the island’s only gas station, seems to be faring well.

“We have met some of the delivery trucks on the north end, but most have made their way here,” said Shelly Oden, manager of the Ocracoke Gas Station. “Some of the representatives have even used their personal vehicles to get stuff to us.”
Oden faxes readings for the gas pumps into Cary Oil and Kenan Transport each week. She notes that a lot of people have been filling up, but doesn’t see a problem with gas d
eliveries to the island when they will be needed. The gasoline truck requires arrangements for a special ferry from Swan Quarter.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has its own diesel and gasoline supplemental tank in its work staging area for its equipment. And local fishermen are able to utilize an account system with the Anchorage Marina for their marine fuel.

Construction on Ocracoke doesn’t stop for wind and weather and hasn’t been halted by the detour.
Dare Building Supply makes daily deliveries to the island and made a special purchase to ensure delivery to the island contractors.

“We bought a four-wheel-drive Army surplus truck to help with our deliveries this winter,” said Wayne Midgette, proprietor of Dare Building Supply. “We can’t carry as much as the regular 10-wheelers, but we’re monitoring our loads by the pound and haven’t had trouble yet. We have ordered different tires to see if that also helps with the beach driving. And the contractors have worked together on their end as well.”

Kellogg Supply Company makes the trip once or twice a week, depending on the orders. They are using a four-wheel-drive truck with a flatbed to deliver supplies.

The basics are covered, and it is an unusual 70 degrees during the first week of January. With the exception of the first two days of winter weather, the contractor and crews have been able to work hard and almost complete the demolition of Bridge #49, the northernmost bridge. A detailed construction progress report, along with photos and important contact information, is available at www.ocracokebridges.com.

(Jamie Tunnell is the editor of The Ocracoke Observer and a contributor to The Island Free Press.)


Comments are always welcomed!

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.