December 11, 2013
Officials address bridge closure concerns
at Hatteras Island community meeting
By IRENE NOLAN
County and North Carolina Department of Transportation officials
responded to questions and concerns from Hatteras islanders at a
community meeting on Tuesday night in Buxton.
The meeting at
Cape Hatteras Secondary School auditorium was attended by a
standing-room only crowd of folks concerned about the current situation
with the closure by DOT of the Bonner Bridge on Tuesday, Dec. 3, for
safety reasons and the future of the bridge and the Highway 12 corridor.
delegation of officials was 10 or so minutes late for the meeting
because, Warren Judge, chairman of the Board of Commissioners said, the
group miscalculated how long it would take them to get to Buxton from
the emergency ferry docks in Rodanthe.
The crowd chuckled.
Judge introduced commission vice-chairman Allen Burrus of Hatteras village for brief opening remarks.
“It’s serious times, and we’re dealing with serious issues,” Burrus said.
He said he had only a few comments before moving into the meeting.
wants to remove “roadblocks” that he said we have to keep people from
running boats from the foot of the Bonner Bridge across Oregon
Inlet to the Fishing Center– about a 15- or 20-minute trip instead of a
two-plus hour ferry ride from Rodanthe to Stumpy Point.
County might arrange for parking space at each end and some kind of
transportation from the Fishing Center to doctors, shopping, and other
things islanders have to do on the northern beaches.
“We have to
start thinking in the future – not about what happened in the
past. We need to start thinking of ways to get off of here.”
From that point, Bobby Outten, Dare County manager and attorney, conducted the meeting.
began by noting that officials welcomed questions but that the 5 p.m.
meeting needed to end by 6:45, so that the county and DOT officials
could head out in time to get the 7:30 emergency ferry from Rodanthe.
brought plenty of laughter from an audience living every day with the
“new normal” when it comes to travel to and from the island.
Outten began going over his list of information for islanders, he
called on Jerry Jennings, DOT’s District 1 chief engineer, for an
update on last weekend’s dredging around the dangerously scoured
pilings on the south end of the bridge.
Jennings gave an upbeat report.
“So far, we’ve had very good success with the dredging,” he said.
He added that the initial sonar scans have shown that the dredged sand has held in place “much better than we thought.”
The audience kept pushing him to give them a best-case, worst-case scenario, which he really didn’t want to do.
officials, in general, have not publicly announced any dates or
timeline since the bridge closed, Dec. 3, saying only that they needed
more information before they could speculate on how long the closure
But tonight after giving an upbeat report on the
dredging that pumped 30,000 cubic yards of sand around the scoured-out
pilings that are the problem, Jennings finally relented to repeated
questions by the audience.
He said that the best-case scenario
is that the bridge would open this weekend or early next week and the
worst-case would be 60 to 90 days.
“Give us a few more days,” he
said. “We are hopeful but don’t want to give you false hope. We are
hoping that we can open the bridge before the repair project is
He said DOT will continue to check the sand depth
around the scoured pilings by sonar and with divers in the coming days
to evaluate if the sand has stayed in place and how it has compacted.
that point, DOT’s engineers will decide if the bridge can be opened
while longer-term repairs are made to the scoured pilings.
awarded a $1.6 million contract to Carolina Bridge Company Inc. of
Orangeburg, S.C., last week for emergency repairs to the bridge.
contractor, Jennings said, has mobilized at the site and materials for
the repairs are arriving. Later this week, the company will drive two
test pilings nearing the scour area to help engineers better analyze
the conditions in the dynamic Oregon Inlet.
Outten then ran down information that islanders need to know and issues that have come up before he started taking questions:
Emergency Medical Services
Dare County has added one ambulance unit and a crew on Hatteras, bringing the total to three.
Dare MedFlight helicopter is being repaired, with repairs expected to
be finished before the end of the week. Meanwhile, he said, the
county has other medical evacuation helicopters available – Sentara
Nightingale, Vidant's Medical Care’s and Pitt County Memorial Hospital’s
crafts, and the helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard.
case of weather in which helicopters cannot fly, the county can
transport patients to the southern end of the bridge, where they are
met by a boat crew from Coast Guard Station Oregon Inlet and
transported to the station on the other side.
this week, an unconscious 28-year-old woman and a woman in labor were
transported that way in the middle of the night.
Outten said the county will be able to medevac patients except under “very extreme conditions.”
Other County Services
said there have been very few problems with keeping county services on
the island operating smoothly at its satellite office in Frisco.
clerk of the court is now providing services on the island several days
a week. The office will be open from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to
5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Trash trucks are making one trip a week to the island’s villages, traveling on the emergency ferry in the off-hours.
Emergency Ferry Priority
Outten said that the county was getting the most feedback on priority on the emergency ferries.
Before going over the current priorities, Outten went over some of the considerations involved in that decision.
noted that the island is not in storm recovery mode with builders,
insurance adjusters, and others delivering emergency assistance needing to
ride the ferries. Unlike after some storms, power and other
utilities are available on the island. And he noted that the visitor
population is low and that rental companies expect it to remain that
way for a while.
“But,” he said, “we have a limited amount of
ferries and limited deck space. At certain times of day, we have more
demand than deck space.”
He added that the Ferry Division wants as few priorities as possible.
priorities makes it more difficult to prioritize deck space,” he said,
and it adds problems for the Ferry Division security staff.
Limited space for parking and stacking lanes also make giving priorities on the Emergency Route difficult.
said he and Dare County emergency manager Sandy Sanderson have been
monitoring the lines on the emergency route every day since the ferries
started running on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and will continue to do so.
Dare’s priorities have been based on these facts.
“That said, to say it’s inconvenient is a disservice to you,” Outten noted. “This is way more than an inconvenience.”
for all residents is something the county has done in the past, he
said, depending on the circumstances. But the county has not
decided that it can afford priority for all at this point, given the
limited deck space on the ferries and the demands
“We have not ignored residents,” he said.
He went over some details about priorities:
- Islanders with medical appointments, emergency medical situations, and the transport of pharmaceuticals have priority.
need an appointment card or a letter to use the medical priority.
Whether or not you have priority on the return trip, “just depends,” he
said. Patients getting chemotherapy or those with certain medical
conditions, will get return priority. If you have a eye doctor’s
appointment, you probably won’t.
- School buses, mail, FedEx, UPS, and Dare County transport vehicles get priority.
- Ferry employees get priority.
county needs to get food, fuel, and other supplies onto the island and
is working with vendors and service providers to get them to use the
“off” times to travel. Trash trucks are already traveling at night.
events, such as weddings and funerals, will get priorities so guests
can travel without waiting. Call Dare County Emergency Management
at 252-475-5655 for information.
- The county will explore making it possible for pedestrians to use the ferry and have some sort of transport on the other side.
Johnny’s Dolphin Tours is offering trips from the foot of the Bonner
Bridge on Hatteras Island to Oregon Inlet Fishing Center for a donation
for gas. It’s a 15-20 minute trip. The number of passengers
is limited on each trip. Call 252-305-1475.
- Weather affects the ferries and fog has been the biggest problem so far.
a questioner asked about a ferry later in the evening from Stumpy Point
for those who can’t make the 5 p.m. because they don’t get off work
until then, Jed Dixon, assistant director of the division, said the
staff could look into that. Today, the division added a 6:15
departure from Stumpy Point and an 8:45 departure from Rodanthe.
response to a question, Allen Burrus said he had asked the governor if
the state could provide aid to islanders who have been laid off or are
suffering economically after the closure. He said the governor
promised to get back to him, but he has not heard yet.
numbers. Call Dare County Emergency Management at 252-475-5655
for questions about priority and other information. County manager
Bobby Outten said his office phone, 252- 475-5811 rings wherever he is.
N.C. Board of Transportation representative Malcolm Fearing offered a
cell phone number, 252-305-8596.
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