April 18, 2014
Blustery weather is further
hampering dredging and boat
traffic in Hatteras and Oregon inlets
By CATHERINE KOZAK
waiting on either side of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry route for the
wind to subside were relieved Friday morning when runs were resumed,
but challenges still remain with weather and dredging.
the weather has also hampered efforts to dredge Oregon Inlet, where the
main channel is only 2- or 3-feet deep in some places.
unscheduled shuttle ferry today is helping to clear backed-up traffic
to and from Ocracoke Island, however, it’s anyone’s guess how long the
ferries will be able to keep running. Nasty northeast winds that had
forced cancellations on Wednesday and Thursday are expected to continue
through the weekend, blowing 25 mph to 30 mph, with gusts to 40
Another complication from the bluster is that
dredges that have been toiling to clear the regular, shorter ferry
channel have also been sidelined by the wind, prolonging the
double-edged sword for ferry travel. The temporary channel being used
now takes about 65 minutes in good weather, versus 40 minutes for the
“One other thing, is with the longer route
we’re running now, we’re a little more exposed to sea conditions,” said
Jed Dixon, the division’s deputy superintendent. “It takes us out into
the open sound.”
That means that a ferry that could go out in
25 mph winds on the shorter, more protected channel may find travel on
the longer route too hazardous.
Dixon said that ferry captains
have been keeping a close eye on conditions and have run when the wind
has let up. But there’s no guarantee it won’t shut down again,
especially with forecasts saying to expect it to blow into early next
“Until this weather subsides,” he said, “we’re just in a wait-and-see mode.”
state dredge has been working as much as possible to remove the
shoaling in the state portion of the 3.5-mile Rollinson Channel, but
completion has been hampered by the weather.
incapacitated last weekend by severe shoaling in Oregon Inlet, the
dredge Merritt arrived back at Hatteras Inlet on Tuesday to resume
work, said Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers’ Wilmington District.
Bullock said the side-cast
dredge is digging a pilot channel in the federal part of the channel
that will allow the hopper dredge Currituck to come in and remove
larger quantities of the sand clogging the channel.
goes as hoped, the state will have completed their portion of the
channel by the time the Corps is done, which would allow the ferries to
resume running in the shorter channel. The channel is about 70 percent
federal and 30 percent state.
Rollinson Channel has been
closed since December, when traffic was diverted to the longer 10-mile
channel. The dredge Currituck had worked at Rollinson in mid-January,
and the state’s pipeline dredge Carolina has been laboring between
weather events to clear a different channel that has been opening
up. The new channel, which was used about six years ago, is
somewhat further away from the inlet and is expected to be more
“We feel like we’re making good progress,” Dixon
said. “We’ve got a couple hundred feet to go and we should be pretty
much in the clear.”
The one blessing for the Hatteras-Ocracoke
ferry traffic is that it does not have to go through Oregon Inlet,
which is so shallow even the huge federal dredge Merritt gave up.
level in the navigational channel under the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
near the Bodie Island spit has ranged from 2- to 3-feet, barely enough
for a kayak, no less a charter boat or fishing vessel.
“Our master onboard the Merritt said it’s as bad as he’s ever seen it,” Bullock said.
Like Hatteras Inlet, until conditions improve, the dredge can’t work and the boats can’t pass.
going to perform surveys basically twice a week to see if Mother Nature
is going to help us out,” Bullock said, agreeing that the unusual
string of northeasters this spring has done anything but help.
“Typically, with a southwest wind, you tend to get a better ebb out of
A nearly $8 million dredge project was completed at
Oregon Inlet in December, removing about 600,000 cubic yards of
sand and leaving a nice 600-foot wide, 14-foot deep channel under
The water was “fairly navigable” in the channel in
mid-March, Bullock said, but now it’s impassable. It got so bad that
the Merritt, sitting on top of a shoal, could not make any
progress. But Bullock said that is different than running
“We’re a dredge, and with a dredge we’re going to be bumping on the bottom,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the business.”
said that no one is sure what is going on with the increased shoaling
in the inlets, but he said the weather can’t explain it all.
An alternate channel some boaters are using in Oregon Inlet on the south of the main channel has its own hazards, he said.
of having a 120-foot wide passage protected by fenders under the
bridge, boats now are navigating between bridge piers that are 60-feet
apart, with no protective fenders on them. Plus, the vessels don’t have
the leeway of going under the high span of the bridge and have to worry
about height restrictions.
Bullock said he has enormous
respect for the skill of the Oregon Inlet fleet, but even the most
experienced can lose control in the powerful current under the bridge.
“The captains that go through that inlet are probably the best there are,” he said. “But it’s a tough inlet.”