Guard proposes new regulation at Oregon
Inlet, but won't restrict boat traffic for now
will be not be stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard from transiting Oregon
Inlet under a new navigation regulation, unless conditions become
hazardous enough to justify issuing a notice to mariners.
by a recent northeaster, even alternate channels under the Herbert C.
Bonner Bridge are barely navigable because of sand build-up, but the
Coast Guard is not, for now, restricting boat traffic, said Lt. Lane
Monroe with Coast Guard Sector North Carolina.
“If the mariner
deems it safe to use an alternate span, then that is incumbent upon
themselves to do it safely,” he said, adding that common sense should
“The Coast Guard is not looking to impose unnecessary regulations.”
the interim rule, published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, gives
them more authority to prevent dangerous situations. With the lack of a
protective bridge fender system at the alternate spans south of the
main channel, there are concerns about the vulnerability of the bridge
“Vessel strikes to the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
(that) could cause catastrophic damage to the bridge,” the document
said, “make immediate action necessary to minimize the risk of
potential loss of life, damage to the bridge, and the impact on access
to Hatteras Island.”
Monroe said that temporary limits on boat
traffic could be enacted based on the size and draft of the vessel as
well as weather and shoaling conditions. Notices could be issued at any
time, he said, when necessary for the safety of motorists on the bridge
and mariners navigating through the waterway.
publication of the rule creating a Regulated Navigation Area within 100
yards in any direction of the bridge surprised some Outer Bankers, it
has been in the works for nearly five years, Monroe said.
“The Coast Guard has had this option in its pocket for some time,” he
2010, he said, the original draft RVA was signed, but it was not
published because dredging and other mitigation had alleviated the
situation. Working closely with the state Department of
Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard started
updating the document in July. It was released in November and
implemented on Dec. 17.
“I believe that exigent circumstances have warranted that being pursued
now,” he said.
said that a similar RNA has been in place for years at the Columbia
River in Oregon, where breaking water on a sandbar creates sporadic
hazardous conditions. In response, he said, the Coast Guard issues a
notice to mariners closing transit through the bar to certain vessels.
When the conditions improve, the bar is reopened.
inspection of the Bonner bridge pilings has revealed significant
erosion of supportive sand, and a Dec. 1 survey of the main navigation
channel found only about 2- to 3-feet of water in some areas.
is a pretty dire situation,” said Jed Dixon, a member of Dare County
Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission. “I would say most boats would
have trouble getting through.”
Dixon, who is the deputy director
of the Ferry Division, said that the northeast wind has again pushed
the migrating Bodie Island spit into the channel, which had been
dredged this summer.
“It’s been an ongoing problem – it’s nothing new,” he said. “This is
one of those times it’s gotten pretty severe.”
Schiffman, vice-chairman of the Oregon Inlet Task Force, an advisory
committee to the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said that
conditions in the inlet are unlikely to improve until the winds shift
southwest – which typically happens in the early spring, although it is
not unheard of in the winter.
“I really think the Coast Guard
is being pro-active,” he said. “The Coast Guard certainly doesn’t want
to restrict commerce, but they also don’t want anyone to hit the
Schiffman, owner of TowBoat U.S. – Oregon
Inlet, said he does not believe the channels will be closed
all vessels, although he said he would not be surprised if height
restrictions have to be implemented at some point.
“They have to be sure there’s enough water to go through,” he said.
Schiffman said, it would be helpful for Coast Guard Oregon Inlet to
broadcast updates on VHF radio throughout the day so that boaters who
are unfamiliar with Oregon Inlet have a head’s up about treacherous
conditions at the bar and in the inlet.
The Coast Guard will continue to mark a channel with the best water,
of the temporary restrictions will be based on existing RNA regulations
that impose penalties, he said, but there are no plans for the Coast
Guard to have a vessel patrolling the area for violators. Citizens
could also report violators, he said. If a violator is a commercial
vessel with a transponder, the Coast Guard could check the tracking
device remotely. Or patrol officers could board other vessels and
review the tracking data.
When the RNA is finalized, Monroe
said, it will be shown on Oregon Inlet navigation charts and will
include notes warning about the waterway’s hazards.
Guard has been meeting with NCDOT to determine what vessels pose the
biggest risk to the bridge, he said. Input on the rule is also being
sought from watermen, boat operators and other members of the public.
Comments on the regulation will be accepted through Feb. 17. The full
interim rule is available to view and comment on at https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-29589.