April 3, 2015

UPDATE: Inlet restrictions are eased,
opening channel to charter boats


The Coast Guard yesterday eased its restrictions on the channel at Oregon Inlet, allowing boats that draw up to 5 feet of water to use the passage. The move comes just before the busy Easter week for charter boats, most of which draw between 3 and 5 feet of water and can now get through the inlet to the ocean.

The channel has been closed since Saturday to vessels drawing more than 2 feet of water because of shoaling in the marked channel and in alternate channels under the Bonner Bridge that captains had been using.

A survey last week showed the federal channel with a depth of 6 feet under the navigation span of the bridge and less than 2 feet on the seaward side.

The Coast Guard recently declared the channel a regulated navigation area, which allows it to impose vessel traffic restrictions to safeguard vessels from shoaling and to reduce the risk of a strike on the Bonner Bridge.

"The Coast Guard will impose restrictions only when necessary based on inlet conditions, and will provide the public with as much advance notice as possible," according to a statement released yesterday.

The Oregon Inlet Guides Association also released a statement yesterday, saying that with "the fishing season in full swing, local charter and commercial fishermen were relieved by the announcement."

“We want to work closely with the Coast Guard to maintain a safe inlet," said Captain Greg Mayer of the Fishin’ Frenzy, a featured competitor on the nationally-televised fishing show, "Wicked Tuna:  North v. South." 

"I’m really pleased that they were able to consider our input this week – we’ve got decades of experience monitoring and accessing the inlet with safety as a top priority," Mayer said.  "Our economy and our families depend upon continued safe passage, and now we’re back in business.”

The Guides Association had been meeting with the Coast Guard to discuss alternatives to the closure of the channel to boats that draw more than 2 feet, which essentially eliminated all watermen who use the channel to make a living.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent two dredges this week to work on the heavily shoaled inlet. The side-caster dredge Merritt, which can operate in relatively shallow water, is currently dredging in the inlet. It will clear a path of up to 8 feet deep to allow the larger hopper dredge Currituck to carve out a channel as deep as 14 feet.

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