improves shoaling in Hatteras ferry channel, and more is planned
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
the dredge Merritt chugged away from Hatteras yesterday after 14 days
working in Rollinson Channel, conditions in the ferry passage, at least
for now, had considerably improved.
And after next week, they should be getting even better.
Shoaling created by Hurricane Irene in late August had created
hazardous areas in the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry channel, causing boats
-- including the ferries -- to bump bottom on the worst days.
sidecaster dredge was able to clear some of the worst spots.
“We haven’t had any problem whatsoever,” said Hal Scarborough, Hatteras
state Ferry Division operations manager, referring to the days since
Tuesday, when his shift began.
But apparently things weren’t as good last week, when the Merritt
itself got stuck on a shoal, said Lucy Wallace, a spokeswoman for the
North Carolina Ferry Division.
Scarborough said that for the time being, ferry runs in the channel
will continue to be limited to the smaller vessels.
When the big hopper dredge Currituck arrives on March 22, it will able
to spend about 10 days doing the heavy-duty dredging the channel needs.
Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers
Wilmington District, said that rather than continuing to wait for
environmental clearances to dispose the dredged material in a deep area
inside an inlet gorge, the Corps opted to go a little further to place
the sand in the nearshore off Ocracoke Island. Currents in
area, he said, allow the sand to drift south, instead of back to the
Corps had applied for a “request for consultation” with the National
Marine Fisheries Service on Feb. 27, said Bob Hoffmann, endangered
species branch chief for NOAA Fisheries. The application is still being
evaluated, he said. An opinion is typically provided between 30 to 135
days, he said, depending on the potential impacts.
Although Hoffmann couldn’t be specific, he said that the implementation
on April 6 of a new rule listing Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered
species could have some bearing in biological opinions issued on
Bullock said the Corps could not keep an expensive government dredge
waiting, despite its preference for placement of material in the gorge.
“We could not get a quick decision, even though we’ve used that for
emergency disposal in the past,” Bullock said. “There was no science
behind it. They just said sturgeons like deep holes.”
Jacob Boyd, protected species biologist for the state Division of
Marine Fisheries, said that of the five distinct sturgeon populations
covered in the Endangered Species Act listing, the Carolina and South
Atlantic are the ones most likely to be seen off the Outer Banks.
The reason the fish would like deep holes, he said, is because they are
benthic bottom feeders. The young hatch and grow in estuarine
shore waters. The adults spawn in fresh waters but otherwise live in
“With sturgeon, I think this is going to be a problem with
some of the dredging,” Boyd said.
Atlantic sturgeon, once known as the “pork chop of the sea” for their
tasty meat, can live up to 60 years and grow to about 7 feet. Once
abundant, the fish were sought after for caviar, and the populations
declined drastically. They now number in the hundreds, although the
state and federal fisheries agencies disagree on the population
figures. A moratorium on catching the fish has been in place
about 20 years.
Bullock said that the Merritt, which cleared out trouble areas by Buoy
11-A and Buoy 9, made a little channel for the Currituck to get
through. When the hopper leaves, he said, the channel should be at its
authorized depth of 10 feet.
Then on about Sept. 1, a pipeline dredge is expected to arrive to do
more work, Bullock said.
Meanwhile, the final review of an agreement between the state and the
Corps to do dredging in Rollinson, Rodanthe, and Silver Lake Harbor,
and surveying only at Stumpy Point, is expected to be completed
soon. Costs and quantities have not yet been determined.
But Bullock said the agreement will only cover one or two dredging
cycles. After that, everyone is back to square one.