September 25, 2012
Running ferries will be a challenge
until dredge gets to Hatteras Inlet
By CONNIE LEINBACH
and travelers who use the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry can expect to see
some relief in the Rollinson Channel sometime after mid-October.
Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, confirmed Monday in an interview that the pipeline dredge
Richmond is scheduled to makes its way to the Hatteras Inlet channel
after it finishes dredging in Ocracoke, which will be mid-October.
Hatteras Inlet has been plagued with heavy shoaling --or sand buildup
-- since Hurricane Irene tore up the Outer Banks in late August
2011. Ocracoke Inlet has escaped the heavy shoaling.
However, Bullock said reason the dredge did not go to Hatteras first
was financial, noting that when the bid was sent out, the corps did not
include a preferred schedule in order to get the best price with a
“We felt we wouldn’t get as great a price if we had included an ‘order
of work’,” he said. “The contract price was pretty much what we
That contract price is around $3.4 million, he said.
Bullock was speaking from Jacksonville, Fla., explaining that he has
been all over the East Coast in the last four weeks on business
regarding the Corps’ shallow-draft dredges, such as the side-caster
Merritt, which was last at Hatteras in May.
Dredging the Big Foot Slough by the Cottrell Contracting Corporation of
Chesapeake, Va., in the channel west of Ocracoke will take 20 days,
weather permitting, from the day it started Sept. 7, Bullock said.
After it dredges for four days in Silver Lake, the Richmond will pack
up and take a day to travel to Hatteras Inlet. After a few days of
setting up, the dredging will begin.
In the meantime, the ferry captains are using all of their skills to
thread ferries through the ever-narrowing waterway between the islands,
said Jed Dixon, deputy director for the North Carolina Department of
Transportation Ferry Division.
In recent weeks, ferries have bumped bottom a few times, especially
during low tide between channel markers 9 and 10B, and even suspended
service, he said.
“Any time we bump bottom, we have to report it to the Coast Guard,”
Dixon said, noting that bumping bottom has happened “fairly frequently”
in the last month.
The most recent incident was Sunday night, he added, when the ferry
missed its 10 and 11 p.m. runs due to shallowness from the low tide and
“Some charter boats and private traffic got grounded and blocked the
ferry,” Dixon said. When that happens, the ferries turn around and go
When the dredge arrives, Dixon said it should be there long enough to
dig the channel out to the project depth of 12 feet. The shallowest
area now is 6 feet, he said.
Dixon, who was a ferry captain for nine years, is as eager as travelers
for the dredge to get to Hatteras Inlet and clear the sand in the
ever-changing underwater highway.
“Our guys are doing the best they can with the conditions we have,” he
said. The Coast Guard also has moved some of the channel markers
around, “but we’re running out of room.”
Dixon advised ferry travelers to visit the ferry division website
www.ncferry.gov, follow ferry advisories on Twitter, or call the
Hatteras ferry operations office for updates as to channel conditions
and ferry suspensions at 252-986-2353.