legislative task force is hurrying to meet a May 1 deadline for a
report on the potential state takeover of Oregon Inlet and adjacent
land on the Outer Banks in Dare County. Meanwhile, the inlet is again
showing how cantankerous and unruly it can be to whoever wants to try
and corral it.
Army Corps of Engineers last week raced to get a shallow-draft dredge
in place to start clearing the inlet, which had become nearly
impassible after the Corps spent $7 million three months ago to open a
15-foot deep channel. Plans are to bring in progressively larger
dredges after that to open it back up to navigation ahead of the spring
and summer fishing seasons.
estimates aren't in, but the work is likely to suck up a sizable
portion of the $800,000 set aside for the Manteo region in this year’s
federal dredging budget. In an era of shrinking federal budgets, the
annual cost of keeping the inlet open to larger boats is estimated to
run up more than 10 times that amount in the future.
plan to come up with a state-run solution to the inlet is another
attempt to break what members of the Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task
Force see as a death spiral for the waterway. The N.C. General
Assembly created the study group last year to look into the possibility
of the state acquiring the inlet and adjacent land on Hatteras and
the land in hand, the state would then presumably take steps to control
shoaling in the inlet, such as resurrecting the old plan to build
jetties on either side of it. The federal government now owns the land,
which is part of a national seashore and wildlife refuge, and claims
ownership of submerged land in the inlet. It killed the jetty proposal
in 2003 after decades of debate.
difficult as it may be to come up with a viable plan for the state to
own and manage the inlet, cutting a deal with the feds to make it
happen may be even harder
Discussion with the federal government
over a potential land swap or sale of Oregon Inlet will start at the
cabinet level, according to Department of Administration Secretary Bill
Daughtridge, who chairs the task force.
its most recent meeting on March 26, Daughtridge told task force
members he would lead the effort to gauge federal interest in the
project and would likely take it directly to Sally Jewell, Department
of Interior secretary.
department spokesman last week said that there’s been no official
contact with the task force, but that National Park Service officials
know about the effort. The park service is part of the Interior
certainly aware of it,” said William Reynolds, a spokesman in the
National Park Service’s regional office in Atlanta. “The park service
is aware of the activity and aware of the task force.”
said the department is taking a wait-and-see approach. “From the
federal government’s perspective, the issue was resolved in 2003,”
Reynolds said. “We can’t speculate on what the task force will propose
and we wouldn’t want to speculate on what impact that might have.”
said transferring park land is not common but does happen. The
boundaries of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, he noted, are included
in the bill that created the country’s first national seashore in 1937.
Only Congress, he said, can change those boundaries.
“It would take an act of congress to change the boundaries of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” he said.
Bowlen, legislative director for Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said Jones
is aware of the task force’s effort, “but only from 10,000 to 30,000
feet.” His district includes Dare County.
Jones supported the bill
to study acquiring the land and inlet, he said, and sent Gov. Pat
McCrory a letter last fall urging him to set up the task force.
said Jones supports the concept of transferring ownership to the state
and would introduce a bill in the U.S. House changing the park
boundaries if the state came up with a viable plan.
task force is scurrying to do just that. The 11-member group of
administration officials, representatives of Dare County and coastal
legislators, is hurrying to finish up a report by the end of April. It
is scheduled to meet again April 25 in Manteo to go over a draft report
on the economics, legal, environmental and transportation aspects of
assuming ownership and management of the inlet.
it started meeting in January, the task force has been trying to build
mainly an economic case for a state takeover, which includes the
construction of jetties that were rejected by the White House Council
on Environmental Quality in 2003. The end of the jetty option, however,
came with a guarantee that the Army Corps of Engineers would maintain
the inlet, but federal money for dredging has been dropping.
a former legislator from Rocky Mount, said it will be important to show
Department of the Interior officials that the plan would lower the
long-range cost of maintaining the inlet.
“If you reduce the
cost of dredging, you affect the federal budget,” Daughtridge told the
task force in March. But coming up with a viable plan is not proving
easy, especially given the fast approaching deadline.
the legislation that set up the task force did not include the jetties
and a sand management plan, members are trying to build a case for a
combination of jetties and regular dredging.
last month’s meeting, Daughtridge told task force members that they
will have to look elsewhere to back up their case because federal
officials have already rejected an economic argument based only on
commercial fishing. Most of the commercial boats have left Wanchese
because of the danger of going through the inlet.
intend to use analysis from an updated report on the economic effects
of the inlet being prepared for the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
The analysis, due in early May, updates a 2006 report prepared for the
county which put the total annual effect of the inlet on charter and
commercial fishing, boat building and tourism at roughly $683
key part of the task force’s economic argument focuses on the negative
effects of a closure or partial closure of the inlet on inland
flooding, saltwater contamination of farmlands and wetlands and
keeping for the task force has not kept up with the pace.
The Department of Administration set up a website in March
but so far has only released minutes and presentations from one
meeting. Secretary Daughtridge declined to be interviewed for this
story. In an e-mail response to an interview request Chris Mears,
a spokesperson for the department, said, "Because we are still in
the information gathering stage, we aren't ready to accept
interviews. We'll be more than happy to once we have all of
our information together."
Riggs, an East Carolina University geology professor and researcher who
has a long history with Oregon Inlet and the Outer Banks, said the
state probably could come up with a dredging plan that could keep the
inlet open at a reasonable depth. The danger, he said is trying to
“over-engineer” a solution to maintain it for bigger and bigger boats.
Riggs said he sees a tremendous financial risk in the state taking over the inlet and trying to build the jetties.
afraid this is just the beginning of an economic nightmare,” he said.
“Oregon Inlet never was a deep-water inlet and never will be, even with
addition to dredging to maintain the inlet, he said, there will be
additional costs to maintain the beaches to the south as the jetties
cut into sand flow. “This would be an incredible long- term investment,” he said.
federal dollars dwindling and the state and local governments all along
the coast having to take up the slack, a costly project at Oregon Inlet
would eat up a lot of money every year, Riggs said. “The state just
doesn’t have the resources to deal with all of this,” he said.
also agreed with a preliminary analysis for the task force by the
Department of Environment Natural Resources, which sent a memo to
Daughtridge that shot down some of the assumptions about the likelihood
of the inlet closing and its effects. In response to concern about
inland flooding the memo states:
would likely not being a significant increase in the likelihood of
inland flooding due to a closure or restriction of Oregon Inlet.
Significant rainfall impacts these low lines regardless of Oregon
Inlet’s status. A hurricane or nor’easter would likely open a new inlet
if Oregon Inlet remained fully close.”
The memo also downplays the potential impact on farmland for the same reason.
Riggs said assuming the inlet would close is too simple.
number and size of inlets are a function of storm patterns,” he said.
“They’re intimately tied to storms and storm dynamics. I don’t think it
would close. It’s the only one in the northern area.”
dynamics and wind conditions work to keep the sand flowing out as well
as in, he said. “It’s a self-adjusting and self-regulating system.”
fact one thing that could stop the natural flow of sand out of the
inlet and create problems inland, he said, are jetties, which would
slow down water flowing from Pamlico Sound. “The inlet, he said, needs
over the debate, he said, is the how much can change even in a short
period of time. In the late 1980s, he said, the inlet moved 1,000 feet
in one year. And any solution has to take into account that one storm
could change the dynamics very quickly.
“(Hurricane) Sandy could have been our storm,” Riggs said. “If Sandy had come ashore we wouldn't be talking about any of this.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)