August 2, 2013
Walking on Isabel Inlet and other tales of recovery
By IRENE NOLAN
On Oct. 21, 2003, I walked on Isabel Inlet.
was a month after I first saw the inlet that was cut between the
villages of Frisco and Hatteras when Hurricane Isabel made landfall
just south of the village and sent a storm surge and powerful waves,
estimated at about 25 feet, across the island.
The progress that
had been made filling the gap in the island was remarkable. In a
month’s time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency on the
project, had a contract with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Oak
Brook, Ill., to fill the inlet. The huge cutter-suction dredge,
the Illinois, was put in place off the southwestern tip of the island
near the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry channel, and about six miles of piping
was laid across the end of the island and up the beach through the
village to the inlet. On Friday, Oct. 17, a sand-and-water
mixture, called slurry, began flowing from the ferry channel through
the 30-inch pipes and spewing onto the beach near the inlet.
1,700 foot wide inlet was divided by two small sand islands into three
channels. By Tuesday when a small group of us toured the site,
the first channel in the inlet was gone, filled with the wet slurry
that had dried and was indistinguishable from the nearby beach
sand. Engineers and workers for the dredge company were busy with
bulldozers and dump trucks, pushing the sand into place and clearing
road debris from the second channel before it, too, was filled.
estimate that it will take up to a million cubic yards of sand to fill
the inlet. The dredge pumps the water-sand mixture at a rate of
about 17 feet per second and was depositing 20,000 to 30,000 cubic
yards a day in the area. The inlet project, which includes
restoring the dunes, was expected to be finished by mid-November at a
cost of $6.2 million.
After the dredging project is
finished, the state Department of Transportation will begin rebuilding
Highway 12 to restore access to Hatteras village at a cost of
$657,000. That is expected to take about two weeks, depending on
Islanders are hoping that by Thanksgiving, we will once again be able to drive to Hatteras village.
IS IT AN INLET?
have carefully avoided calling the cut in the island between Frisco and
Hatteras an inlet. In the beginning, it was referred to as a "low
spot," though the day after the storm, dolphins were photographed
swimming through the "low spot." Since then, many agencies have
called the gap a "breach."
Most islanders have called the "breach" an inlet from the beginning. It has been dubbed Isabel Inlet.
reason that many state and local officials prefer to avoid the "I" word
is that inlet has a more permanent connotation and was more likely to
cause problems with some agencies and environmental groups when a
decision was made early on to fill it.
However, two coastal scientists doing research in the area recently think the breach is indeed an inlet.
Freeman and David Bernstein, partners who own Geodynamics, a Morehead
City geologic and oceanographic research company, surveyed the area
from a specially equipped WaveRunner. The $48,000 project was
funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide data to better
understand coastal breaches.
Freeman said the survey showed that
the first section of the breach that was filled averaged seven to 10
feet deep and had "quite a bit of tidal flow." The second channel
was about eight feet deep but was blocked from flowing by a section of
peat. The main part of the inlet, the section on the Frisco side,
is an average of 18 feet deep with some sections as deep as 24 feet
with 7 to 8 knots of current.
"From being out there for about
two weeks, if you see water flowing out there every day at 7 to 8
knots," Freeman said, "it’s certainly a tidal inlet. There’s no
question in my mind."
Isabel Inlet has been a popular site for
visitors. Each day, hundreds of people have been trekking the
mile or so from the Frisco Bathhouse, where Highway 12 is closed, out
to the inlet.
THE NEW NORMAL
Friends and relatives call to ask if we have gotten back to "normal" yet.
The answer is "yes," but it’s the "new normal."
most of Hatteras Island, life resembles what was normal before Isabel.
Visitors have returned to all of the island except Hatteras
village. Most shops and restaurants are open, and
Cape Point is crowded with fall anglers.
In Hatteras village,
folks are struggling to return to some semblance of normal. Power
and water are restored, and villagers have been allowed to bring back
their vehicles on the ferry from Stumpy Point on the mainland.
However, they are still coping with the destruction to their homes and
businesses. Economically, almost all are suffering. The
cleanup of the debris from the storm is underway, but the village is
still a mess, and looking at it and dealing with it everyday is
depressing, even to those whose homes and businesses were not destroyed.
from the village, or "Little Hatteras" as it is currently known, to
"Big Hatteras" is by boat — either private boats or passenger ferries
that run on the hour from dawn to dark from Frisco Cove Marina to
Oden’s Dock. On a nice day, it’s a pleasant trip. On a
windy or stormy day, it can be most unpleasant and wet.
islanders make the trip every day. They either live on Big
Hatteras and work in Little Hatteras or vice versa. Others make
the trip on a less regular basis — mothers with babies in strollers who
are visiting relatives or have medical appointments and villagers who
come to Big Hatteras for business or to shop. It’s not unusual to
see Hatteras villagers loading groceries or other purchases on the
ferries. Also on the boats are insurance adjusters, federal,
state, and local officials involved in the recovery, and suppliers who
will help the village rebuild.
Access to and from Little
Hatteras on the boats and ferries it limited to residents, workers, and
others with legitimate business there and is tightly controlled.
However, the Hatteras village marinas are open for business and have
permission to ferry charter customers to the village on boats from
THE NEW NORMAL ON OCRACOKE
Ocracoke Island is also struggling with the "new normal."
village had soundside flooding but was largely undamaged.
However, problems with electrical power and transportation have caused
economic problems and a sense of isolation on the island. For
several weeks after the hurricane, Ocracoke was getting power from a
generator, which was large enough to provide electricity only to
residents. Once regular power was restored, visitors were allowed
onto the island — but only from the mainland.
running four times a day from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island, but the
Hatteras Inlet ferry has not been running from Hatteras village since
the storm. Highway 12 on Hatteras was severed by a new inlet just
east of Hatteras village.
addition, seven miles of Highway 12 on Ocracoke from the Pony Pens to
the ferry docks was badly damaged and dunes were flattened. A
mile of the highway was destroyed, and the rest was covered in up to
five feet of sand. State DOT workers have cleared the sand and
constructed a preliminary road bed that is passable, but the final
asphalt layer cannot be installed until the highway to Hatteras village
is repaired and the Hatteras Inlet ferry is running again, so that the
asphalt can be transported before it cools down too much.
have been trickling back to Ocracoke but not in the usual numbers,
according to David Styron, a member of the island’s emergency
management team. People who have rentals are coming, he said, as
are fall fishermen, but, without the day visitors from the Hatteras
side of the inlet, businesses are suffering.
bringing gasoline and food, which used to come on the Hatteras Inlet
ferry, now have to make the longer trip by ferries from the
mainland. There have been a few glitches, Styron said. One
weekend last month, shortly after visitors were allowed back on the
island, the gas pumps ran dry. However, he said food for the
restaurants that are open and the grocery stores has not been a big
problem. Folks are making do, he says.
Some visitors have
been frustrated trying to catch the ferries from the mainland.
Reservations are required, but Ocracoke residents have priority on the
first and last ferries of the day, and some supply trucks, especially
those with refrigerated items, also get priority and are bumping people
waiting for the ferries.
Residents who were used to
taking the 40-minute ferry to Hatteras for shopping and such things as
medical appointments, now must catch a 2 1/2-hour ferry to the mainland
and drive around.
"All of our lives are altered," said
Styron. "Our lives are nowhere near normal, but, considering what
happened in other places like Hatteras, we are doing all right."
(This article was first published in the November 2003 issue of The Island Breeze.)