May 1, 2013
UPDATE: Army Corps again surveying inlet after
dredging project fails to solve ferry problems
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
survey team is working to determine the degree of shoaling in the
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry channel, which ferries still can’t transit
after a months-long dredging project.
“I’m not clear
what’s going on,” Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the Wilmington
district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said late Wednesday.
Ferry captains have reported several sections in the channel that are problematic, especially near channel marker 12.
said that his best guess, judging by what he’s heard, is that the
trouble area, where the channel by 13 Alpha turns towards the inlet and
then back toward Ocracoke, had not been dredged as deeply because of
buried utility lines. And recent nasty weather may have moved more sand
to that spot.
“The contract dredge did not want to get caught
up in those utilities,” he said, not to mention leaving Ocracoke Island
in the dark. “It might be 8- or 9-feet deep. I think that area is kind
of a pinch point right now.”
The Corps dredge started work at the end of December and departed last week.
are expected to have their evaluation to the Corps and the state Ferry
Division by Friday or Monday, Bullock said. That information will
allow the Coast Guard to mark the optimum navigational route.
“If there are areas that are shallowed up,” he said, “then certainly they’re going around that channel so it’s safe.”
traffic between Hatteras and Ocracoke has been diverted to an alternate
channel since February after Hurricane Sandy in October and several
northeasters completely clogged the regular channel, a first even for a
passage plagued with constantly shifting currents and sand.
temporary channel has good water, but it’s longer and takes about an
hour of travel, versus 40 minutes for the normal channel. As a
consequence, ferries have had to run on a different schedule, creating
occasional long traffic backups.
“The alternate route has been very sustainable,” Deputy Ferry Division Director Jed Dixon said. “It’s been manageable.”
no matter what the survey shows, the ferries will return to the regular
half-hour departures for the summer season by Tuesday, Dixon said.
may require a little more manpower and boats to do that,” he said
Wednesday, “but we’re going to go ahead and do that regardless if we
run the long route or the short route.”
Dixon said that two more
vessels will be put into service –bringing the total to six -- and the
recently repaired MV Ocracoke will be on standby during the upcoming
Ocracoke Island Surf Fishing Tournament this weekend to alleviate
After test runs on Saturday where a vessel
scraped the bottom “a little bit” and even experienced captains had
difficulty passing ferries in a narrow section of the channel, Dixon
decided that the short channel was still unsafe to use.
Wednesday, charter and private vessels and commercial fishing boats
that draw 5 feet or less had resumed using the Rollinson Channel -- the
ferry channel -- between the harbor in Hatteras village and Hatteras
Bullock said that depending on what the survey finds,
more work in the ferry channel may be required. The dredge Murden,
which is similar to the hopper Currituck, is expected to be available
in Hatteras by mid-May, he said.
“If we had any weather at all that pushed some material back in there,” he said, “we may have some cleanup to do.”
bigger question may be how long even that would last. Dixon, as well as
others who have all worked many years in Hatteras Inlet, have noticed
in recent years that the waterway is different.
Bullock, also well acquainted with the inlet, has seen the challenges.
area has been rapidly changing for over two years without any real good
explanation,” he said. “We certainly had more dredges there. It is