the dredge Currituck pulled out of Oregon Inlet last Thursday, Nov. 10,
the navigational channel under the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was easily
9 feet deep. By Saturday afternoon, it was about 3 feet, a stunning
rate of shoaling even for the notoriously volatile waterway.
Oregon inlets have shoaling problems -- again
don’t know what happened,” said Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District. “It was
definitely a dramatic change.”
Things were nearly
as bad at Hatteras Inlet, where a sailboat, stuck in the shoaled ferry
channel, blocked traffic for much of the day Monday. Since the weekend,
only the shallow draft ferries and small vessels -- when it wasn’t too
foggy or the tide wasn’t too low --- were able to navigate through the
At least a dozen vessels have hit bottom in
recent days, said Dare County Commissioner Allen Burrus, who lives in
Hatteras. Most managed to back up or wait to float out. On
Monday, he said, there was just over 4 feet of water in the channel,
even less the following day. Large ferries draw about 6 feet. Ferry
travel back and forth between Hatteras and Ocracoke Island has, by
necessity, slowed considerably.
“They’re picking their way, picking their time,” Burrus said.
“They’re trying to keep it open.”
said the dredge Merritt, dispatched from Wilmington, was expected to
arrive on Wednesday to start work in Hatteras. The worst spots in the
Rollinson Channel are between buoys 9 and 12. It will work
hours a day until Monday, when it will head to Oregon Inlet.
on Nov. 22, the sidecaster dredge will be clearing sand from the
channel under the bridge, which is again being clogged by migrating
sand on the Bodie Island Spit that had been temporarily swept away by
But the spit’s renewed expansion only
partly explains the massive shoaling in the channel. Typically, winter
nor’easters dump sand into Oregon Inlet and sand is carried south down
the beach by the littoral current. There was a nor’easter a
couple of weeks ago, yet it was quiet this past weekend.
To some, the recently-completed beach nourishment project, just north
of the inlet, seems to be the logical culprit.
ought to call the town of Nags Head and tell them to come get their
sand,” said Minta Meekins, general manager of the Oregon Inlet Fishing
Center. “You can see where it’s coming from -- just go look
the beach in South Nags Head.”
Meekins said that a couple of
commercial vessels had bumped bottom on Tuesday, but the charter
vessels are still getting out in the deeper water south of the marked
“It’s not stopping us from fishing,” she said.
Shriver, the Corps survey team leader in Wanchese, said that he
surmises that the ebb and flow of the powerful currents in the inlet,
amped up by the recent nor’easter, may have caused the shoaling over
the weekend. The Currituck, a large hopper dredge, he said, had just
spent 24 hours a day clearing around the bridge from Nov. 6 to Nov. 10.
“We had good water in the channel at the end of last week,” he said.
The ocean bar currently has about 12 feet of water, and the interior
channels have been stable.
County Manager Bobby Outten said that there’s no information he has
heard that could attribute the cause of Oregon Inlet shoaling to Nags
Head’s nourishment project, especially considering that it would have
no relation to Hatteras’ similar woes.
Outten said that
the county is “working with anybody who will listen,” to secure funds
for more dredging. Recently, he said, coastal counties have begun
discussions about collaborating to find ways to afford continued
maintenance of their inlets.
“Everybody is scrambling
to get dollars that don’t exist,” he said. “We all have the
problem and the solutions aren’t obvious.”
eliminating the use of earmarks in budgeting, Outten said,
Congressional members no longer can readily get funds for local
projects into the federal budget. Now, such requests have to work their
way into the president’s budget.
“It’s a much more cumbersome process and it doesn’t move quickly,”
And federal dredging funds have been slashed not just to the bone, but
to the marrow.
to about 2005, the Corps’ budget included about $7.8 million annually
for Oregon Inlet dredging, Bullock said. For the last five
or so, it has been $4.5 million annually. For fiscal year 2012, Oregon
Inlet was appropriated $1 million. That will cover about 30 days of
dredging, he said, plus survey work.
The Corps was able to
roll over $1.9 million from 2011 funds, Bullock said, Another
$1.5 million in state transportation funds is available for maintenance
of the channel to protect the existing Bonner Bridge and during
construction of its replacement. In addition, $250,000 was provided in
the 2012 budget for dredging Silver Lake and $50,000 for dredging
Bullock said that the state and the
Corps are currently hammering out an agreement that would provide
regular maintenance dredging for all the ferry channels on the Outer
Banks, including Stumpy Point and Rodanthe.
chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said that the
situation with the Outer Banks’ inlets is symptomatic of Washington’s
“collective stalemate.” If the waterways are not maintained, he said,
commerce will invariably suffer.
millions of dollars, but we can’t fix the things that need fixing,”
Judge said. “Everybody talks about job creation, but the
thing you do is keep the jobs you’ve got.”
Previous Island Free Press articles on Oregon Inlet shoaling:
Guard warns mariners of shoaling at Oregon Inlet
Coast Guard warned mariners of shoaling near the center span of the
Herbert C. Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet on Thursday, Nov. 17.
survey conducted this week by the Army Corps of Engineers noted water
depths as low as two feet in the federal navigation channel that runs
through the main bridge span.
Shoaling, driven by the recent
nor’easter, has accelerated during the last two weeks with water depths
dropping in the channel from 18 feet to less than three feet.
draft vessels are not able to safely navigate the
channel and should
use alternate routes.
All mariners are urged to exercise extreme
caution in the area and limit their transits to high water tidal
periods. Continued shoaling may force shallow draft vessels to seek
alternate waterways to access the Atlantic Ocean.
information, including recent inlet depths, visit the Army Corps of
Engineers Web site at http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/nav/.