January 23, 2013

Coast Guard and others come to the rescue
of Ocracokers struggling with ferry woes


The U.S. Coast Guard has come to the rescue of Ocracokers desperately in need of medications from a pharmacy in Hatteras while the ferry between the two islands is shut down by shoaling in the channel.

Chris Wright, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet, said that as of today the Coast Guard will transport medications from Beach Pharmacy to the north end ferry dock where someone from the Ocracoke Health Center will pick them up.

“As long as the weather holds out, we’ll be making a daily run at 1 p.m.,” Wright said, adding that he spoke with Steve Evans, owner of Beach Pharmacy on Tuesday. “We ran it up the chain (of command) quickly and, yes, we can help.”

He also said he will reach out to both Dare and Hyde County Emergency Management so that these groups know the Coast Guard is there to help if they can.

Evans explained that he had made a few runs himself to deliver medications to the island, the most recent one being on Tuesday when he recruited his friend Marshall Foster, who also works for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division, to take him to the Ocracoke ferry dock in one of Foster’s dad’s boats.  Dwight Burrus of Hatteras village, who has a private plane, also has been pressed into service.

“We’ll get the medications to Ocracoke any way we can,” Evans said.

Today, a four-person Coast Guard crew traversed the channel in 15 minutes to hand off medications to Ocracoke Health Center manager Jamie Tunnell Carter, who gave them a container for the courier on the Hatteras side.

The Ferry Division suspended the ferry between the islands Jan. 18 after high winds the night before caused the ferry channel at markers No. 9 and No.10 to shoal over and become impassable for the ferries, which draft about four feet in the water.   Boats with lower drafts of one or two feet, such as ones Foster and the Coast Guard can use, have been able to get through the channel to Ocracoke.

The ferry Division added runs between both Cedar Island and Swan Quarter and exempted residents and vendors from the tolls.

Dare County commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras village said Tuesday night in the board’s regular meeting that the Army Corps of Engineers has identified another route farther into the sound that the ferries possibly could use while the regular channel is being dredged. 

The Corps is surveying that area, said Jed Dixon, deputy director of the Ferry Division, on Tuesday, but it may not be a feasible route as it depends on several factors--particularly a viable depth.  Then the Coast Guard has to certify a new channel and set channel markers, all of which could take days to complete. 

“My position is that this is all speculation,” Dixon said. “At this point, I don’t know the likelihood of this happening.”

Meanwhile, the pipeline dredge Richmond is pretty much on schedule and has worked through two of the “hot spots,” said Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the Army Corps. It is heading toward the next hot spots in the Hatteras Inlet.

The dredge is about 65 percent through its contracted area, Dixon said.  After the dredge finishes at the final hot spots at markers No. 9 and No.10, it will move back into the Rollinson Channel area.

As for the suspended ferries, Dixon said they are assessing the channel daily.

“A big portion of the channel is filled in below four feet,” he said. “We can’t operate in that depth.”

Until the Hatteras ferry lane opens up, Ocracokers are finding other ways to get their business and personal needs met, such as veterinary services.

Roanoke Island Animal Clinic in Manteo has a standing third-Wednesday-of-the-month clinic on Ocracoke but hasn’t been to the island since November.  The clinic hopes to get to the island in February.

Reggie Mosser, a New Mexico resident who with her husband, George Brown, resides in Ocracoke for the winter, had to find a veterinarian Monday in Morehead City to get annual shots for her dog.

Others with doctors’ appointments are similarly scrambling.

“My son has some dentist appointments with Dr. Slagle in Frisco,” said Merle Davis. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to get to them.”

“It’s a hardship beyond belief,” said Gail Hamilton, a village resident, about having to use only the Swan Quarter ferry. “My mother was born here, and I’ve never known them to shut down for more than a day or two.”

Other residents have had to stay overnight in Dare County to keep doctors’ appointments.

 Ken DeBarth, a physician’s assistant who works weekends at Urgent Care in Nags Head, said having to take the Swan Quarter ferry has added several extra hours to his commute each way, sometimes forcing him to stay overnight either before or after his gig.  Juggling his drive time has been tricky since October as he couldn’t catch the Hatteras ferry at low tide then encountered difficulties at Highway 12 in northern Rodanthe at high tide.

“But it’s great that they put the extra two boats on at Swan Quarter,” he said.

Brian Samick, a local carpenter, noted that the building supply trucks have arrived.

Sean Death, manager of the Beachcomber Campground and Gas Station, said the Sysco (food) truck has gotten here, and he has given the drivers complimentary food.

“Tommy’s (Hutcherson at the Variety Store) put some up overnight,” Death said.

Celeste Brooks, postmaster at Ocracoke, said the only time the mail hasn’t gotten here was two days last week and that she asked the ferry to modify its schedule to accommodate the post office’s turn-around.

Today, the Ferry Division did just that and announced adjustments in the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferry schedules to adjust for vendors, such as the mail truck, for adequate turn-around times.

The adjusted departures will be:

  • Changing the 7 a.m. departure to 6:30 a.m. and the 12:30 p.m. departure to 1 p.m. from Ocracoke; and
  • Changing the 10 a.m. departure from Swan Quarter to 9:30 a.m.

 The adjusted schedule will be:
  • Departing from Swan Quarter at 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 and 10; and
  • Departing from Ocracoke at 6:30 a.m., 10, 1 p.m. and 7.
In addition, the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles has announced that after trying every way possible to get its mobile unit to Ocracoke that it will be unable to make its Friday, Jan. 25, stop in Ocracoke. According to a press release, the mobile unit has a strict schedule of stops along the coast and will not be able to cross Hatteras Inlet due to the suspended ferry operations.

 NCDMV routinely sends a mobile DMV unit via ferry to the Dare County Civic Center on Highway 12 quarterly. The next mobile unit visit to Ocracoke is scheduled for April. However, the mobile unit will be visiting Swan Quarter at the Hyde County government lot, 11 Main St., on Feb. 14, March 14 and April 11.


Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry operations suspended after vessel runs aground
Shoaling continues to shut down Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry
Ocracokers struggle to cope with sporadic ferry service at Hatteras Inlet

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