October 22, 2010

UPDATE:  More extensive repairs needed on ferry; routes will be affected longer

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division announced this week that several runs on the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke and Cedar Island-Ocracoke routes would be suspended for several days while repairs are made to the Motor Vessel Pamlico.

After examining the ferry in the shipyard, it has been determined that extensive repairs are needed in the ship’s bulkhead, stern section, aft of the engine room.
It will take approximately 7 to10 days to repair and have it inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard before the vessel will be ready for service.

Shipyard employees will be working seven days a week to facilitate the repairs as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the three other sound-class vessels, MV Carteret, MV Cedar Island, and MV Silver Lake are continuing to make daily departures at these routes.

The Ferry Division analyzed traffic figures to determine the routes with the highest traffic volume and has developed an alternate schedule for these routes that will begin today, Friday, Oct. 22, until the winter schedule takes effect Nov. 2.
Beginning Friday, the schedule will be as follows:

From Cedar Island to Ocracoke departing at 7 a.m., 9:30, 12:30 p.m., 3:30, 6 and 8:30;
From Ocracoke to Cedar Island departing at 7 a.m., 10, 12:30 p.m., 3:30, 6 and 8:30;
From Ocracoke to Swan Quarter departing at 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; and
From Swan Quarter to Ocracoke departing at 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Travelers with reservations for any of the suspended runs during this time period should call the reservations center at 1-800-BY-FERRY (293-3779) and press 2 to make alternative arrangements.

These routes normally return to a reduced number of departures for the winter months, which will begin on Tuesday, Nov. 2. The winter schedule can be found at the ferry website at www.ncferry.org in PDF form.
The MV Pamlico was built in 1965, as was the MV Silver Lake. Both Sound Class ferries have 45 years of service within the Ferry Division’s fleet. Just recently, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation awarded a $14.9 million contract to Orange Shipbuilding Co. in Orange, Texas, to build a second Sound Class ferry with funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A $13 million contract was awarded last year for the first of these two “sister” vessels, which will be completed in the summer of 2011.

October 20, 2010

UPDATE:  More ferry problems have some routes to Ocracoke suspended

The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division has suspended several runs on the Swan Quarter- Ocracoke and Cedar Island-Ocracoke routes.

The runs are likely to be suspended for several days while welders fix problems on the Motor Vessel Pamlico.

The Ferry Division had just returned to normal after September storms caused serious shoaling in the Rollinson Channel in Hatteras Inlet that forced the division to use the smaller ferries only and even to shut down the Hatteras-Ocracoke route for several days. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent several weeks dredging the channel, which is now operable.

While dealing with shoaling on the Hatteras Inlet route, the Ferry Division also had to suspend runs from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island to Ocracoke for several days for repairs on another boat.
The following runs have been suspended:
The 7 a.m. run from Ocracoke to Cedar Island;
The 9:30 a.m. run from Cedar Island to Ocracoke;
The noon run from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter; and
The 5 p.m. run from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke.
A return to the normal schedule will occur as soon as the MV Pamlico is fixed and running safely. Travelers with reservations for any of these runs during this week should call the reservations center at 1-800-BY-FERRY (293-3779) and press 2 to make alternative arrangements.

The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is running normally with summer departures of every half hour because of the continued large amount of ferry traffic.
NCDOT also offers ferry travel information on Twitter, a free social-networking Web site. Citizens can get brief updates, or “tweets,” for ferry routes by signing up at www.twitter.com/ncdot_ferry.

October 5, 2010

UPDATE: The Hatteras Inlet ferries resumed service on Monday


A new navigation channel has been marked between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, allowing ferry traffic to resume on Monday, Oct. 4. 

But ferries are still running every hour rather than on the half-hour for the time being, said North Carolina Ferry Division spokeswoman Lucy Wallace.

"We’re just trying to give the dredge the room it needs to finish up,” she said.

Back-ups at the ferry dock stacking lanes “haven’t been that bad,” Wallace said, averaging no more than an hour.

Wallace said that the division expects the normal Hatteras-Ocracoke schedule to resume when the dredging is completed, hopefully by Wednesday.

In September, 30,463 vehicles --- 78,067 passengers--- traveled on the route, she said.

Charter boats, which use the same channel as the ferries, were able to go out again Sunday afternoon, said Rom Whitaker, captain of the 53-foot vessel Release.

Since many charter boats draw about 4 feet --- about the same amount as the smaller Hatteras-class ferries --- Whitaker said that there is as much concern from charter boat owners about safety when the channel is so badly shoaled.
With the recent heavy rain and northwest winds creating tidal conditions about 3 feet above normal, Whitaker said that the worries about shoaling are not over yet. Some commercial boats have recently reported that there’s about 7 feet of water in the inlet, he said, so problems could develop when the tide subsides.

“If we run our boats aground, we do a lot of damage,” he said.

Weather is not the only challenge in keeping the channel clear. It is also that the responsibility for keeping the channel open is divided between the federal and state governments, and one is broker than the other.

The Army Corps of Engineers had just completed a year-long $800,000 project in Rollinson Channel ---- about 70 days of dredging ----with sidecasters Merritt and Fry, said corps’ project manager Chris Frabotta.

 “We’ve been able to, really, barely keep it open,” he said.

But Hurricane Earl and a series of coastal low pressure areas followed by the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole pushed sand right back into the channel.  By that point, there was no money left to do any more dredging, Frabotta said.  With some reprogramming, the district found $300,000 to do an additional 28 days of sidecaster dredging in the channel’s federal portion. So far, about 20 days have been completed, he said.

On Wednesday, the corps will assess conditions from a survey taken today and a decision will be made to continue or to stop, saving the remaining funds.

Next year, the federal budget to dredge the ferry channel is just $50,000, Frabotta said. The corps, he said, is coordinating with the state in looking for more funding.

Ocracoke Island, meanwhile, is bouncing back after losing four days, including the weekend, since much of its business comes from day trippers coming to the island from the north.

Ferry traffic to the island was also hindered by damage to a sound-class ferry serving Swan Quarter and Cedar Island, resulting in cancellation of six daily runs. The repaired ferry is expected to be back in service by the end of the week, Wallace said.

Tony McGowan, owner of Down Creek Gallery on Ocracoke, said that motels and cottage rental companies did a good job notifying visitors not to use the Hatteras ferry to get to the island.

Still, he said, business was only about one-quarter of what it would have been normally.  And that’s on top of the 4 or 5 days lost in early September with Earl.

“It was a big hit,” for the island’s economy, he said. 

The following runs have been suspended on the Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Ocracoke-Swan Quarter ferry routes:
The 6:30 a.m. run from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter;
The 9:30 a.m. run from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke;
The 12:30 p.m. run from Ocracoke to Cedar Island;
The 3:30 p.m. run from Cedar Island to Ocracoke;
The 6 p.m. run from Ocracoke to Cedar Island; and
The 8:30 p.m. run from Cedar Island to Ocracoke.
The following runs will continue as scheduled:
The 7 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. departures from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke;
The 9:30 a.m., noon and 4:30 p.m. runs from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter;
The 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. runs from Ocracoke to
Cedar Island;
And the 7 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. runs from Cedar Island to Ocracoke.

Travelers with reservations for any of the suspended runs should call the reservations center at 1-800-BY-FERRY (293-3779) and Press 2 to make alternative arrangements.

October 1, 2010

‘Extreme’ shoaling shuts down Hatteras Inlet ferry

This week’s storm has apparently finished off what Hurricane Earl started in early September.

The shoaling is serious enough in the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel that the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division has shut down operations for now.

“The channel we were using is gone,” said Lucy Wallace, public information director for the division, who termed the shoaling “extreme” in a media release.

Ferries are not running between Hatteras and Ocracoke today, and Wallace could not venture a guess on when they might.  In her media release, she said that finding and marking a new channel may take “as long as two days.”

The Rollinson Channel is federally maintained, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has been working on the shoaling problem since shortly after Hurricane Earl passed just offshore of the islands on Sept. 2-3.

Chris Frabotta, project manager for dredging for the Corps, said that the agency requested and received authority and emergency funding to address the problems after Earl.

The Corps got $300,000 in emergency funds for 14 days of dredging.

The dredge Merritt had mechanical problems after 12 days of working in the channel and had to be moved for repairs.

Meanwhile, a low pressure area that combined with the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, battered the area with rain and heavy winds yesterday, which exacerbated the shoaling.

Frabotta said he expects the dredge to be back and working in the channel tomorrow for two more days.

At that point, he said, USACE will re-survey the area to see how successful the dredging has been. If necessary, he said, the agency will request funds for an additional 12 days of funding or work with the U.S. Coast Guard to mark a new channel.

After the shoaling from Earl, the Ferry Division had to stop running the larger river-class ferries and run only the Hatteras-class boats.

The division did a test run with a larger ferry on Tuesday, Sept. 28, but the ferry ran aground and had to return to Ocracoke, unload vehicles, and re-load them on a smaller boat.  Some tourists who were on that trip said the trip from Ocracoke to Hatteras ended up taking about three hours.

During the tourist season, Ocracoke businesses are dependent on day-trippers from the north who come to the island to spend the day, eat, and shop.

Using only the smaller ferries during an especially busy September created a logjam in the ferry lines at both Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Wallace said the division was “using every boat we had,” but still the waiting time for day trippers was trying on many days.

“Day trippers are a huge part of our business,” said Tony McGowan, owner of Down Creek Gallery at Ocracoke.  “If the ferries aren’t running, they aren’t coming.”

And, he added, that if the ferries aren’t moving the usual number of vehicles, business also suffers.

“It’s not only affecting our efforts to get customers here,” said Alan Sutton, owner of Tradewinds Tackle, “but it’s also affecting our ability to get delivery of products.”

Today, the Ferry Division is waiving tolls for Ocracoke residents and commercial supply vehicles. Residents must show proof of residency in the form of a driver license and will be given priority re-entering the island. However, they must arrive at Swan Quarter or Cedar Island 30 minutes prior to departure.

Tolls are also being waived for Ocracoke residents leaving the island, but no priority status will be given. Residents must get in the stand-by lane and arrive 30 minutes prior to departure going to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. Reservations are being honored as well.

By all accounts, Ocracoke was quiet today.

However, the lack of ferry service from Hatteras can be problematic for Ocracokers.

Scott Caldwell of Coastal Inshore Charters made a special delivery of prescription medication today to Ocracoke. 

Caldwell said that someone from the ferry docks called Teach’s Lair Marina, where his boat is docked, this morning and wanted to know if someone who didn’t have a charter could deliver the medicine to the other side of the inlet.  The only alternative was to call the Coast Guard.

Caldwell said he didn’t see any need for that and ran the medication to Ocracoke – all in a day’s work. “Whatever it takes,” he said.

Alan Sutton said there are two big weddings scheduled on Ocracoke this weekend.

The sister of one bride came into his shop today to buy boots because the wedding site was still flooded from the heavy rain. She reported that some of the wedding party and guests were staying on Hatteras and they were trying to figure out how to get to the ceremony.

The other bride, Sutton said, has a wedding dress that was on Hatteras today.

Sutton said the uncertainty and lack of communication about these transportation problems get trying, and he gets frustrated with the bureaucracy of fixing such things as a shoaled ferry channel.

“However,” he added philosophically, “it’s just part of living here and most of your customers understand. It is what makes this island unique and special.”
For up-to-date information on ferry schedules, call 1-800-293-3779 (BY-FERRY) and Press 1, or go to www.ncferry.org.

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