April 24, 2015
good weather and ongoing dredging have opened sand-clogged channels in
Oregon Inlet that as recently as three weeks ago were impassable,
Dare County, the state, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are
looking at long-range means to handle the recurrent shoaling issues.
As Oregon Inlet conditions improve,
attention turns to long-term solutions
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Tobin, chairman of the county's Oregon Inlet Task Force and manager of
Pirate’s Cove Marina, said that vessels began transiting the main
channel on Wednesday.
“It was great,” he said. “The channel is in pretty good shape right now.”
also said that the Oregon Inlet Waterways Commission voted on Tuesday
to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it be dissolved into
the Task Force.
by the county in 1983, Tobin said the commission – of which he served
as vice-chairman – is no longer needed to oversee Dare’s ditches and
canals since county staff has taken the responsibility. Rather than
duplicate efforts, Tobin said, members of both panels agreed to merge
into the Task Force, which the county established in 2013 to focus on
solutions to navigation issues in Oregon Inlet.
Commission member Jed Dixon and chairman Dave May will move over to the Task Force.
said the Task Force would also be concerned with Hatteras Inlet’s
navigation issues. Ferry and charter vessel traffic has been forced to
use a longer channel because of severe shoaling in the former – and
shorter - ferry channel. According to Potter, no work is
scheduled in Hatteras for at least the next 45 days.
a new memorandum of agreement has been hammered out between the Corps,
the state and the county that would provide dredging on a more regular,
as-needed basis in Oregon Inlet – which is surveyed weekly - and when
necessary, in Hatteras Inlet.
of being reactive,” said Donnie Potter, the chief of the physical
support branch at the Corps’ Wilmington District, “this will give us a
said that about $7 million annually would allow the Corps to address
shoaling before it creates a serious hazard and becomes more difficult
has not been possible, he said, since the sidecaster dredge Schweizer
was removed about 15 years ago from its long-time post at the Oregon
Inlet Coast Guard Station and later, at Wanchese harbor. But
shoaling has worsened considerably since Hurricane Irene in 2011 and
Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“The dynamics and the design of the inlet has changed a lot over the years as well,” Potter said.
survey taken on Monday showed that the channel was about 100 feet wide
and had an average depth of 8 feet – a vast improvement from last
month’s unnavigable narrow passage with depths of 3 to 4 feet.
“It really showed significant changes,” Potter said.
vessels have been using an alternate channel on the south side of the
bridge for months. For a few days in late March, the Coast Guard closed
the inlet to nearly all traffic until the dredge Merritt arrived.
But even with deeper water, it is safer for vessels, and for the bridge
infrastructure, to go under the main span because it has protective
fenders on either side.
dredge Merritt, Potter said, had worked about two weeks in the channel
before the larger dredge Currituck could safely start on April 18,
concentrating on the east side of the bridge. The goal is to get
the channel at least 10 feet deep and 150 feet wide. The
Currituck will work 24-hours a day through about May 6, weather
said that the troublesome Bodie Island spit that has repeatedly
migrated into the channel has been cut in two by the dredge, a tactic
that the Corps hopes will encourage the encroaching south end to be
swept away by the current.
county is currently looking for about $3.5 million to match state funds
for the increased dredging. County Manager Bobby Outten said that a
¼-cent tax provision in the state Senate budget, if approved, would be
able to fund about $3.3 million of the amount.
existing dredging agreement between the state and the Corps limits
available funds to $4 million, Tobin said, hence the need for a new
agreement that also includes local funds.
Tobin said that the state funds cannot be nailed down until the next
budget is passed in October, the state may be able to provide interim
funds before then.
the federal government backing away from funding coastal and waterway
management projects, Tobin said, the state has stepped up to the plate.
realize the value of the inlet,” he said, referring to a recent
analysis that cited an overall economic impact of $550 million for
Oregon Inlet. “It’s a transportation corridor. That transportation
corridor has to be maintained.”
said that if the inlet could be kept opened with regular maintenance,
eventually out-of-town vessels will not be afraid to come though –
which in turn would reverse the impacts of the inlet’s bad name.
you get that reputation that the inlet is good and maintained, those
boats will come,” Tobin said. “ And the ripple effect of that commerce
is those people go out to dinner. They rent houses.”