July 10, 2015

Commissioners approve $1 million
for Oregon Inlet dredging


After learning that an unexpected $1 million was available in a state dredging fund, Dare County didn’t waste time getting first in line to claim it for Oregon Inlet.

At a special meeting on Thursday, the Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved transferring $1 million in matching funds from the county general fund to the state Shallow Draft Inlet Maintenance Fund.

During the very brief meeting, Board Chairman Bob Woodard said that the county Oregon Inlet Task Force had learned last Friday that the money could be available in the fund this fiscal year if Dare provided the matching funds.

But if the county waited another two weeks to action at the next scheduled board meeting, it could be too late.

“There is competition for the money, which is why we wanted to go ahead with this,” Commissioner Beverly Boswell, who represents the county on the Task Force, said after the meeting. “It was a very good surprise and that’s why we’ve moved on it so quickly.”

Bobby Outten, the county manager, said that the transfer is taking the money that the county already has available in its fund balance for Oregon Inlet maintenance.

“There’s very little risk,” he said, “and all we’re doing, really, is moving up the timing of when you get this done.”

A new agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between Dare and North Carolina has been worked out to do pro-active year-round dredging in Oregon Inlet, with the county and the state splitting the annual estimated $7.3 million cost.

The proposed state Senate budget would allow the county to use its share of the 2 percent occupancy tax to provide matching funds up to $3 million annually. As the law is currently, the tax funds are dedicated for beach nourishment and would not be permitted to be tapped for dredging costs.

Outten has said earlier that the county has devised  a 5-year plan to borrow from the beach nourishment fund without affecting planned town nourishment projects.

The final state budget has not yet been approved. But the unexpected state funds, he said, will allow the county to get a jumpstart on the dredging project.

“It just lets us move faster,” Outten said. “We don’t have to wait on the budget.”

Now that the board has approved the action, the manager said he would immediately wire the $1 million to the state with a cover letter. That will assure that no other entity could muscle in ahead of Dare.

“Once we’re in, we’re in,” he said.

Jim Tobin, the chairman of the Task Force and a member of the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission, said that the dredge Merritt, which has just done some cleanup work in the inlet, is tentatively scheduled to return to Oregon Inlet on Aug. 5 to start the proactive dredging. 

Maintenance of Hatteras Inlet is provided in the Senate budget bill, he said, “but until that’s passed, that’s out of our hands.” But he said that Oregon Inlet is currently in the best condition it has been in about a year, with channel width at about 200 feet and depth of 7- to 9-feet.

Tobin credits the hard work of the board and the state and federal legislators for the progress in finding a solution for dredging funds.

“It’s been a long road,” he said after the meeting. “Today was a huge step. A huge step.” 

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