May 23, 2013
Provision in Senate budget proposes that
state try to acquire Oregon Inlet
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
provision in the proposed state Senate budget that would consider
options to acquire Oregon Inlet was a surprise to officials at Cape
Hatteras National Seashore, the owner of the waterway’s submerged land
and much of the adjacent property.
“We have not had
conversations with anybody at all about acquiring Oregon Inlet,” said
Darrell Echols, deputy superintendent of the National Park Service
Outer Banks Group. “This is news to us.”
Released on Monday,
the $20.58 billion spending plan was passed tentatively by the state
Senate on Wednesday, according to a prepared statement from Senate
President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
“I’m proud of
the Senate’s commitment to delivering budgets,” Berger said, “that
reasonably and responsibly direct available resources toward real
The bill provides for the creation of a 13-member
Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task Force to determine, review, and
consider ways to have the inlet and its adjacent real estate
transferred from the federal government to the state.
the property . . . will allow the state to preserve Oregon Inlet
and to develop long-term management solutions for preserving and
enhancing the navigability of Oregon Inlet,” the bill said, “which is
both a critical transportation corridor and a critical source of
commerce for the state’s Outer Banks.”
The task force would be
charged with consulting with the state property office, relevant
federal agencies, and the North Carolina congressional delegation “to
establish the monetary value” of the inlet and the surrounding
property. It would also be responsible for determining whether the
federal government would be willing to sell or exchange the inlet for
Finally, the task force would explore
any options for the acquisition, including “condemnation of the coastal
lands conveyed to the federal government in a deed dated August 7,
1958” that are listed by longitude and latitude at the end of the
Echols said that, in general, the Park Service has
been involved in land acquisitions and trades, so “obviously, it’s
possible.” But he said that no one from the state has talked to
seashore managers, or anyone else at the agency, about the possibility
of relinquishing Oregon Inlet.
“The only conversation we’ve
had in the last few months is with Congressman Jones’ office about Park
Service boundaries at Oregon Inlet,” he said.
As a notoriously
mercurial waterway prone to dangerous currents, Oregon Inlet has
frustrated boaters, fishermen, and even dredge operators with its
shifting shoals and unpredictable conditions. For decades,
watermen tried to get funding for twin jetties to secure the
navigational channel, until the federal government finally shot the
proposal down for good 10 years ago.
Since then, the channel
has been dredged repeatedly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
marked by the U.S. Coast Guard, but maintenance funding is an annual
battle. A string of recent storms has exacerbated the shoaling,
resulting in long periods where the inlet has been virtually
Dare County favors most anything that will keep
the inlet “open, stable and viable,” including state control of
the waterway, said Bobby Outten, the county attorney and manager.
“We would certainly support it,” he said. “It’s a good idea.”
said that the county was expecting that some sort of measure would be
introduced in the General Assembly that would help to stabilize the
“It’s something that Dare County and the Oregon Inlet
Task Force have been talking about,” he said. But he said the
county did not have direct input into the proposed bill.
“We didn’t draw that language up and say, ‘Here, do that.’”
said that the county is willing to entertain any potentially effective
solution, whether a dredge stationed at the inlet, a sand bypass
system, or a terminal groin, as long as it is environmentally and
Ownership of the inlet was not discussed
during a recent visit from Gov. Pat McCrory and Secretary of
Transportation Tony Tata, Outten said. The acquisition bill also has
not been brought up with Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., or with the Park
Service, he said.
If the proposed bill leads to a way to keep
the inlet maintained and passable so that marine commerce can be
revitalized, Outten said, it would buoy the economy statewide.
Inlet has generated a tremendous amount of revenue for Dare County and
North Carolina,” he said, “As it closes, we lose that revenue.”
Senate bill also proposed to fund dredging shallow draft channels like
Oregon Inlet with about $2.2 million from the Highway Fund, provided
partly from revenue from a motor fuel tax and increases in boat
The budget bill is expected to have a final
vote in the Senate today. It will then go to the House, where
differences in the spending plans must be reconciled before the budget
is approved and sent to the governor for his signature.