Army Corps agrees
to move larger dredge to Oregon Inlet
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to move the dredge
Currituck to Oregon Inlet to provide faster, more effective dredging
capabilities for that crucial navigation channel. The Currituck will
begin work Saturday, April 16, and will immediately begin dredging
around the clock.
The current vessel stationed in the inlet, the dredge Merritt, will
transfer to another location temporarily. The Corps of Engineers and
the federal government will cover the expenses of moving the dredge
Currituck from Ocean City, Md., and operating it through mid-May.
The North Carolina Congressional delegation, Gov. Bev Purdue, Dare
County officials and others have continued to lobby the Army Corps and
the federal government to address the problem of shoaling in the inlet,
which is threatening boat traffic.
Large trawlers can no longer pass through the inlet, and shoaling has
caused some smaller private and recreational charter boats to start
using an alternate channel under the Bonner Bridge. The
pilings in this alternate channel are not protected with fenders, and a
boat collision could threaten the safety of the public that must travel
over the aging span.
Perdue visited Dare County last Monday to tour the inlet and to
emphasize her support for getting the channel cleared and,
specifically, getting the large hopper dredge Currituck. She
told the Currituck would not be available until mid-June.
Today, Army Corps Wilmington District Commander, Col.
Jeff Ryscavage, announced that the Currituck would be
“I visited the Oregon Inlet with Gov. Perdue Monday,” Ryscavage said,
“and understand her concern about the severe shoaling in the
inlet. We have scrubbed our dredging schedule. At this time,
have an opportunity to move our split-hull dredge Currituck into Oregon
Inlet on the 16th of April. We have sufficient funds to keep Currituck
there for 30 days, working 24 hours a day.”
“The fishing industry is more than just a way to make a living – it is
part of the Outer Banks cultural heritage and brings millions of
dollars to North Carolina every year,” said Perdue. “It’s not
just fishing jobs at stake if the inlet closes – it’s our tourism, our
restaurants, our packing houses and our maintenance yards. I am
committed to working with the Corps and local officials to protect
those jobs and keep Oregon Inlet open, but at the end of the day, we
need support from the feds.”
“Dredging at Oregon Inlet is critical to North Carolina’s coastal
economy and public safety,” said Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. “The Corps
agreement to send the Currituck to dredge the inlet
welcome news, but we need a long-term funding solution. I remain
committed to working with my colleagues in Congress, the U.S. Coast
Guard, the Corps of Engineers, Gov. Bev Perdue, and Dare County
officials to explore all possible options to keep this channel clear
and ensure that boats are able to pass safely under Bonner Bridge.”
Perdue sent a letter urging officials in Washington to prioritize
funding for the Outer Banks dredging operations. Since the governor’s
visit to Nags Head on Monday, her staff has kept the pressure up on
North Carolina’s Congressional delegation and White House officials.
Today, she urged locals to do the same.
“Washington cannot forget the real people who depend on the fishing
industry. They should not ignore the hundreds of millions of dollars
that pump into the economy,” Perdue said.
The governor has pledged to work with the Dare County commissioners to
find a solution for at least part of the season if the federal
government doesn’t come through. “I’m confident we can find a solution
to get us through the season, but we have to work together,” she said.
In the meantime, the dredge Currituck will move quickly to open the
inlet as much as possible.
According to the Corps, the advantages of using the Currituck
suited to 24 hour operations, thus it can move about 11,600 cubic yards
of material daily, as opposed to the Merritt’s 6,000 cubic years each
- It is able
dredged material further away from the navigation channel, making its
dredging efforts more effective.
- It can
dredged material in deep water south of the Bonner Bridge navigation
span, which can indirectly serve to shore up the bridge structure.
on Oregon Inlet: Fix for continual shoaling eludes even the governor
Banks officials to assess the shoaling
problem at sand-clogged Oregon Inlet, Gov. Beverly Perdue came prepared
on Monday, April 11, to authorize state money to help dredge the
Instead, her efforts were frustrated, making her one of a long line of
state and local officials who have, for more than 40 years, tried and
failed to tame cries of alarm about conditions at one of the most
dynamic inlets on the East Coast.
“We just left a meeting with the Coast Guard and the Corps, and I have
to tell you, if I were a cussing woman, I’d be cussing,” Perdue told
the audience at the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Legislative
Breakfast. “It was not a pleasant meeting.”
Perdue said she was told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the
dredge Currituck, which is needed to do the job, couldn't get here
until mid-June. She said she would talk to the state’s congressional
delegation to see if there is a way to get it here sooner. If so, she
would free up the money, which state Sen. Stan White said was $1.5
depth in the inlet’s main channel, which is supposed
to be 14 feet, was measuring about 6 feet. But a preliminary survey on
Monday showed that the depth in the channel east of the Bonner Bridge
had increased to 8 to 9 feet.
Although the inlet has remained passable for charter fishing vessels
and small commercial boats, larger fishing trawlers, which draw about
11 feet, have not been able to safely transit the inlet for weeks -- a
seasonal hazard that is typically relieved when the wind shifts in the
late spring and summer storms blow through.
“I’d say what’s happening out there is pretty chaotic and random,” said
Billy Edge, professor of civil engineering at North Carolina State
University and the head of coastal processes and engineering at the
University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute.
“I don’t see what’s happening now as particularly unusual from an inlet
standpoint. We need a couple of big flood events to drive the sediment
Headaches with the inlet began even before the Herbert C.
Bridge was completed in 1963, with the waterway, the only
ocean-to-sound passage between Virginia and Hatteras, drastically
rearranged the year before by the monstrous Ash Wednesday Storm.
Suddenly, the catwalks on the bridge’s north end were over more sand
than water, a clue to future woes.
As it was, the inlet had already migrated nearly two miles to the south
since it was slashed out by a hurricane in September, 1846, and its
predestined path has since made maintenance of the channel a
never-ending, costly, and mostly ineffective struggle.
Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park was built by the state in 1981 to
support the Outer Banks fishing industry, but it was quickly dismissed
as a boondoggle. Before the paint was dry, it was evident
the huge fishing trawlers would have trouble navigating the inlet,
especially in winter, which is, unfortunately, the best fishing season.
Vessels soon adapted by frequently bypassing Wanchese for deeper water
ports in Hatteras or Virginia. In time, the seafood park successfully
switched its focus to businesses like boat building, marinas, and
fishing supply shops.
Watermen, meanwhile, had continued to wage a battle to build twin
jetties to anchor the inlet, a $100 million project Congress authorized
in 1970 but never funded. In 1989, the state Department of
Transportation was permitted to build a terminal groin on the northern
tip of Pea Island to stabilize the bridge, but an effort to have the
state build a short rock groin on the north end as a stop-gap shoaling
control measure was defeated in 1997.
lobbying from the Outer Banks, the jetty project was
finally killed in 2003 -- but not before a promise was made by the
federal government to better maintain the waterway.
That’s a promise that has not been kept, watermen
Dredging costs have averaged around $5.5 million annually in recent
years, but budget proposals are often short. And this year the proposed
$1 million appropriation would cover only survey costs.
“It’s the toughest budget year we’ve ever had,” said Bob Peele, inlet
liaison for the state Department of Commerce. “We’ve had problems with
trawlers getting out in the past. The difference this year is we have
no federal contract coming to dig out the trawlers.
“That’s what’s freaking everybody out.”
Peele, the director of Wanchese seafood park, said there are about 20
trawlers registered there, and about 10 in Engelhard.
A big dredging project completed with federal stimulus funds left the
inlet deep and navigable until February. And then, practically
overnight, it was a mess and became impassable for the trawlers.
The shoaling of the main channel also tempted boat captains to begin
using an alternate channel to the south.
The inlet’s main channel runs underneath the center span of the aging
Bonner Bridge, which has a fender system to protect pilings if a boat
bumps against them. As they have in previous years, some vessels were
using the alternative channel of deeper water that passes under an
The Coast Guard had previously looked the other way, but after some
reports that boats had struck the unfendered bridge pilings, concerns
mounted about the safety of the bridge and the traveling
As a result, the Coast Guard is in the process of issuing a temporary
rule restricting vessels 80 feet and 100 gross tons from using the
inlet, a measure that will allow violators to be cited, according to
Capt. Anthony Popiel, Coast Guard sector commander for North Carolina.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” he said.
Chief Hank Macchio, Coast Guard officer in charge of the Aids to
Navigation Team in Wanchese, said that traffic in the inlet must now
pass under the center span of the bridge. He said that the fragile
condition of the bridge, in light of the alleged strikes, required
None of the small vessels that reportedly hit the pilings in the last
two or three weeks while using the alternate channel had reported the
incident, as required, said Coast Guard Lt. Greg Mosko, supervisor for
Marine Safety Detachment. The strikes are being investigated, he said.
Oregon Inlet is notorious for currents that are so strong even the
mighty workhorse dredges struggle to stay on course. And it’s
those same powerful forces, geology and wind, that make Oregon Inlet,
though untamable, unlikely to close. Pressure from the
Sound waters, which are seeking release into the ocean, is intense.
“What’s happened in the past is that the inlet has gotten deeper and
deeper to carry the same volume of water,” said East Carolina
University geology professor Stan Riggs. “In 1995, I went out
through the inlet one time and it was 75 feet deep. If it gets that
deep, that’s making up for the lack of width.”
Riggs said he has heard of times when the center spans of the bridge
were floating in the water because the pilings were undermined. “The
currents are incredible,” he said.
The inlet still wants to move south, Riggs said, but the groin on the
south side has changed the natural movement of sand. So the sand builds
up in the channel that doesn’t want to be there. Part of the recent
problems, he said, likely stem from a series of smaller storms that
allowed sand to accumulate.
“If we get a big storm coming through, that storm will probably blow it
out,” he said. “An inlet breathes. When a storm comes through, it opens
up to let it in and let it out. The problem is when you jetty an inlet,
you stop that process.”
And when you construct a bridge with a fixed navigation span in a place
like Oregon Inlet, there might be a problem.
“The people who designed that bridge must have been from Oklahoma,”
Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, said that no one can explain why the spit on the northeast
side of the inlet is shoaling like it is now, including old time
watermen who have fished the inlet for generations.
“They’ve never seen what they’ve seen that inlet do this year,” he
Bullock, who has worked for nearly two decades in the inlet, has seen
storms come through and clear tons of sand out in a flash. In 1993, he
saw a storm bring in a 10-foot tide that picked boats up at the fishing
center and spiked them on pilings. But nothing like that kind of storm
has happened lately.
“We haven’t had the water push out,” he said. “Maybe we’ll be blessed
with southwest winds. That will help us out there.
“That place has been crazy this year,” he added. “It’s been very