June 13, 2014

Shorter, traditional ferry route still not
navigable; ferries stay on longer route


Islanders and visitors traveling to Ocracoke will still have a longer ferry ride between islands since the short route still is not safely navigable, the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Ferry Division announced today.

After the sidecaster dredge Merritt, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finished on Thursday, the ferry division did three test runs in the Rollinson Channel (the short channel historically used between the islands), and it still is not deep enough, said Tim Hass, Ferry Division spokesman.

“That channel is just not deep enough,” Hass said. Ferries between Hatteras and Ocracoke will continue to operate on the longer, "alternate" route.

In the meantime, the Merritt is in Ocracoke harbor area for scheduled work, Hass said.

"We wish we had better news, but after several test runs Thursday, it became clear that the traditional route was still not navigable," said NCDOT Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin in a news release issued today.

"Safety is always the highest priority of the Ferry Division," he said, "and remaining on the longer route is the best way to ensure the safety of our passengers, crews, and boats."

Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, said he hopes the short channel can be operable soon.

“They’re working on it as hard as they can,” he said.

On Monday, Goodwin and other ferry officials visited Ocracoke for a public meeting in the Ocracoke School gym and announced that they will hold meetings on Ocracoke every other month.

“The last seven or eight years, the dynamics have changed,” said Harold Thomas, an assistant director in Morehead City, “and we have a more open and volatile inlet.”

Jed Dixon, an assistant director in Manns Harbor, presented a slide show of the shoaling of the inlet in the last 50 years.

Hatteras Island is losing shoreline around the point closest to Ocracoke, which is the main concern as that tip has historically protected the channel, Dixon said. Now, sand is migrating into the channel, particularly so after hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012).

Islander Justin LeBlanc, co-owner of Ocracoke Coffee, asked if there’s a long-term solution, such as beach nourishment or better dredging.

“I think it could be fixed,” Dixon said, “but if there’s the desire and the will, I can’t say.”

He noted that Dare County has an uphill battle with the continued shoaling of Oregon Inlet.

Goodwin told about 20 islanders that in the next couple of weeks he will have a superintendent in place for the summer at the Hatteras ferry dock to oversee the entire operation there to improve operations.  This is in response to another meeting Goodwin held with selected members of the Ocracoke business community early in May about their concerns with the ferries.

“Customer service is critical to me,” Goodwin said, noting that the superintendent will be accessible for residents’ and visitors’ concerns.

Hatteras Inlet ferry service was forced onto a longer, "emergency" route Dec. 17 when continued shoaling in the inlet made the traditional ferry channel no longer navigable. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made several attempts to dredge the channel, but it remains too shallow to use safely. The alternate ferry route is about one hour each way, 20 minutes longer than the traditional route.

In response to the decision, the Ferry Division is moving a larger boat to the Hatteras Inlet route and will add five additional departures from each side beginning June 17, bringing the total number of runs on each side to 37.

The new schedule, starting Tuesday, will be as follows:
Departing Hatteras: 5:15 a.m., 6:15, 7:45, 8:45, 9, 9:15, 10, 10:15, 10:45, 11:15, 11:30, 11:45, 12:30 p.m., 12:45,1:15, 1:45, 2, 2:15, 3, 3:15, 3:45, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, 5:30, 5:45, 6:15, 6:45, 7, 7:15, 8, 8:15, 8:45, 9:15, 9:30, 10:45, 11:45.
Departing Ocracoke South Dock: 5 a.m., 6:30, 7:30, 9, 10, 10:15, 10:30, 11:15, 11:30, noon, 12:30 p.m., 12:45, 1,1:45, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:15, 3:30, 4:15, 4:30, 5, 5:30, 5:45, 6, 6:45, 7, 7:30, 8, 8:15, 8:30, 9:15, 9:30, 10, 10:30, 10:45,midnight.

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