February 1, 2013

Ocracokers continue to cope as
weather slows channel dredging


While a media release from the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s  Ferry Division today announced that dredging in the Rollinson Channel between Hatteras and Ocracoke is 65 percent complete, it will all depend on the weather as to how soon ferries will be up and running.

The pipeline dredge Richmond did not work Wednesday and Thursday, said Jed Dixon, deputy director of the Ferry Division, and probably didn’t today because of high winds.

“They’re at the most exposed spot (of the inlet) at channel marker No. 9A,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can.”

Dixon also scotched a rumor that sand is filling in behind the dredge as it proceeds.

“The latest surveys don’t show that (sand is filling in),” he said. “I’ve looked at the survey from yesterday and the channel is not filling in.”

He said the dredge is scooping two feet deeper—10 feet—than the project depth of 8 feet.   As work continues, the Ferry Division will issue press releases every Friday as to the progress and post updates on its Facebook page and Twitter account, he said.

“We are putting out the information for the Corps,” he said.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the contract with Cottrell Contracting, owner of the dredge.

Dixon also said that having the ferries use a different, longer channel between the islands, as was explored last week, was deemed not to be viable.
He said that a 35- to 40-minute crossing schedule is what the division bases its services around

“Anything other than that affects our schedule,” he said.

 According to traffic information released by the Ferry Division, the Hatteras-Ocracoke run has the highest passenger use of all the North Carolina ferries.

While islanders await the return of the Hatteras Inlet ferry, they and vendors are coping by using the Swan Quarter ferry, to which the Ferry Division has added additional runs.

Kathy McGuiness, owner of Island Pest Control in Frisco, noted that having to take the Swan Quarter ferry, which is a 2 1/2-hour crossing, to service customers on Ocracoke is a “tremendous expense on us small  businesses.” However, she added, the need to help customers is the driving force.
“Rats have been known to chew through water pipes and wires,” she said. “We’ll do all we can to get there.”

Others, such as the Hyde County Transit, a free nonprofit agency that transports Ocracoke Islanders up the beach every other Tuesday, have changed their route to Belhaven or Washington, noted executive director Beverly Paul.

The much longer ferry ride to Swan Quarter has kept some of the more elderly from making the trip, she said. “Some of the folks in their 80s or 90s can’t deal with that long trip.”

But they’ve had more calls from others on Ocracoke for rides on one of their seven buses.
She noted that the service has been free since they began in 1987. Funding comes from a mix of government and private grants, Paul said.

“Our demand from Ocracoke has increased by 14 percent each year,” she said.  The agency also has daily express buses for doctors’ appointments every weekday that will pick people up at the Swan Quarter ferry dock, take them to the appointments on the mainland, and get them back to the ferry dock.

The next buses for shopping will run Feb. 5 and 19.  Reservations can be made by calling 252-926-1637.

Tommy Hutcherson, owner of The Variety Store, Ocracoke’s largest grocery store, has kept his shelves full in the last several weeks with some creative managing.

“I’ve had stuff dropped off at Chris’s Grocery in Swan Quarter,” he said, as a way to help truck drivers avoid the ferry ride.  Chris then brings the items over.

“Only a handful of vendors are coming now,” Hutcherson said. “They’re losing money with all of the time they spend coming over here.” 

Hutcherson has sometimes put the drivers up for no charge in the Sand Dollar Motel, which he also owns.

Sean Death, manager of the Beachcomber Campground and Gas Station, said he helps the truck drivers out with complimentary food sometimes.

After Shirlenia Meekins, the UPS driver, hauled in a dolly full of chips, Death gave her a cheeseburger to go. Meekins has modified her delivery schedule to every other day to Ocracoke via Swan Quarter—a trip she doesn’t mind even though it makes for a 12-hour day.

“I have my portable DVD player and take power naps,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to come here.”

Mary Ellen Piland, who was in the Variety Store on her way to catch the 1 p.m. ferry, said she was leaving today  for an early Monday morning doctor’s appointment.

“It’s what we bargained for living here,” she said with a smile.

Phyllis Wall has postponed her pending dentist appointment in Frisco. “I told them I’d call them when the ferries are running,” she said.

Others talk about the negative comments they’ve read online concerning the island’s plight, such as comments suggesting islanders move away from the coast.

The ferry routes are part of Highway 12, islanders point out.

“This is our road, “said Dale Mutro, one of the post office clerks. “We may be only 3,000 people here on the Outer Banks but we’re not worthy of services? We pay our taxes. What about the people who live in tornado areas or where there are rock slides or some other kind of natural disaster?  Maybe they should move too.”

“You can’t help some and not others,” said postmaster Celeste Brooks.

Yes, Mutro understands the risk of living here. “But I grew up here. This is my home,” he said.

Others are concerned about  taking pets to the vet, which is something Mickey Baker, co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, knows about since she has had to take sick cats to Roanoke Island Animal Hospital in Manteo twice in the last two weeks.

Roanoke Island Animal Hospital typically comes to the island the third Wednesday of the month, but hasn’t come to the island since November. The next visit is scheduled for March 20.

Baker noted that she and her friends are helping each other out by carrying things up the beach or picking up things there to bring back to islanders.

“It’s working out,” she said.
But sitting on a ferry is a nice respite in busy lives, she mused.  Baker has lived on the island for more than 20 years, and, like others, is used to the occasional inconvenience of suspended ferry service.

“We know you can’t get here after midnight and you can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But we don’t have to spend our lives sitting at traffic lights. Sitting on a ferry, I have 45 minutes to read a book. I love the ferry.”

Ronnie O’Neal, owner of the Miss Kathleen charter fishing boat, said, “It’s the price we pay for living in paradise.”

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