Residents and visitors frustrated by spotty
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry service
By CONNIE LEINBACH
Ocracoke visitors and islanders alike were frustrated Monday with spotty ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras.
The “super moon” and high northeast winds have increased shoaling in
the Rollinson Channel between the islands, causing ferries to hit the
sand and even suspend service since Saturday.
Lucy Wallace, Ferry Division spokesperson, announced today at 2 p.m.
that ferry service for Tuesday was being suspended. Possibly there may
be a run later today, she said, but not tonight.
“We don’t want to run ferries aground at night,” she said.
Captains are making announcements on the ferries and ferry workers are
handing out fliers in the stacking lanes on both sides of Hatteras
Inlet about the situation, she said.
But when the last ferry from Hatteras rolled into the Ocracoke dock
Monday night around 7 p.m., more than 50 cars were in line to return to
the Hatteras side. After loading as many as they could, ferry
personnel told folks in the 26 cars left at the dock that there would
be no more ferries that night.
It would be the second night in a row that people would have to camp in
their cars at the dock or find a motel room in Ocracoke village.
Many were vacation home renters on Hatteras Island who had come to Ocracoke for the day.
“I would have liked to have been warned before I got on that I might
not get back,” said Dennis Buday of Pittsburgh, Pa., who was staying in
Several other stranded folks echoed his comments.
“We were sitting in the stacking lane (at Hatteras) and no one told me
we might not get back,” said Lisa Rayburn of Jacksonville. She had left
her two dogs alone in her rental home on Hatteras and, with her party
of six, had to find lodging on Ocracoke for the night, as well as
relief for her trapped dogs.
“I spend a lot of time in Hatteras, and I don’t come to Ocracoke
because of this,” she said about being stranded. “This is
A couple from Greenville, Frank and Lisa, who declined to give their
last name, waiting in the stacking lane in Hatteras from 1:30 until
6:30 p.m. Monday to be sure to get on the last ferry to Ocracoke.
They had taken the noon ferry to Hatteras for errands up the beach.
“I happened to ask a ferry worker if the ferries ran every half hour
and he said that this was the last one,” Frank said. “I just turned
around and got back in the stacking lane.”
Ocracoke residents waited in the line with them all afternoon.
“We’re losing money hand-over-fist waiting in lines,” noted Leslie
Lanier, owner of Books to be Red on School Road in Ocracoke. “It
seems like this is an everyday thing with ferry delays.”
“We already didn’t have a fall season,” said Chester Lynn, an Ocracoke
resident who has a flower shop. “And they’ll have a whole lot less
money if people can’t survive on the Outer Banks.”
Delays due to shoaling have been occurring since Hurricane Irene last
August, which blew a lot of sand into both the Hatteras and Oregon
inlets, noted Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers Wilmington District.
Relief is on the way as early as Friday, he said.
“We had to get an emergency declaration. Then all the environmental agencies had to comment and sign off on it,” he said.
The side-caster dredge Merritt will leave Lockwood Folly Inlet on the
southern North Carolina coast on Wednesday, and, moving at seven to
eight knots-an-hour, will arrive at Hatteras inlet on Friday.
The Merritt is for shallow dredging—in about four feet of water, which
is what’s needed now in the heavily shoaled part of the channel.
“The sand really has been dynamic in the inlet since Hurricane Irene,”
Bullock continued. “We only have one side-caster dredge trying to clean
up all the mess from Irene.”
In addition, Bullock said he is pushing hard to send a contract out now
for bids for a pipeline dredge, that goes deeper. Because of the
requirements of the bidding process required, the earliest that dredge
could be here would be Sept. 1.
“This is a serious situation,” said Jason Daniels, chief deputy sheriff
on Ocracoke Monday night at the dock, where he and another deputy were
on hand. “And it’s not even the ferry’s fault. It’s a logistical
nightmare for us.”
It’s not just about all the tourists, he said, but the 900 Ocracoke
residents going on and off the island for various errands, such as
doctors’ appointments, and his co-workers traveling for court dates and
Meanwhile, the North Carolina Ferry Division is doing all it can to get
people to and from the islands, said Jed Dixon, deputy director.
“Two weeks ago, we declared an emergency in the channel,” he said.
“We’re operating in a very difficult situation. As conditions
allow, we’re trying to run what ferries we can.”
Safety for the passengers is the chief concern of the ferry captains,
he said, noting that the conditions in the channel can change instantly.
Moreover, the strong winds on the Outer Banks affect the drifting sand more so than other places.
“Here, the wind-driven tides affect the water level more than just the (lunar) tides,” he said.
He and Wallace stressed that they have been issuing constant alerts via
the Ferry Division website, press releases to radio and print and
electronic media and Twitter.
Yet, still, it’s very difficult to get the word out to the Outer Banks
visitors who may not be plugged in to all the electronic information
Some of the stranded folks had some ideas.
“If they just had the ferry workers tell us before we get in line that
we might not get back, then it would be our risk,” said Walker Thompson
of Williamsburg, Va., who, with his dog, was one of the ones left on
Ocracoke Monday night.
But that has its problems, too, officials noted.
“We don’t want to turn business away,” said Angie Brady-Daniels,
vice-president of public relations for the Outer Banks Chamber of
Commerce. “Too much negative information can backfire.”
She said her organization is forwarding Wallace’s e-mail alerts to
3,300 people on its e-mail list, which includes rental offices and the
sheriff’s office, among others.
B.J. Oelschlegel, a realtor with Lightship Realty, wondered why officials hadn’t dredged the channel over the winter.
“They don’t have the foresight that when this happens it trickles down
to them,” she said. “We lose sales tax, which affects their state
revenues. They’re biting the hand that feeds them.”