August 13, 2015
Officials ponder solutions to latestWorsening
conditions in Hatteras Inlet spurred more than 100 people, mostly
watermen, to come out on a rainy night on Tuesday to attend a meeting
in Hatteras village to toss around possible remedies to intractable
shoaling in the channel.
round of Hatteras Inlet shoaling
By CATHERINE KOZAK
In recent weeks, sand has choked a section of the channel between the
Hatteras Inlet gorge and the Ocracoke south ferry dock, leaving as
little as 4 feet of water and causing some vessels to bump bottom.
“You can’t get a charter boat through there, much less a dredge,” Allen
Burrus, Dare County Commissioner from Hatteras said at the special
meeting of the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission.
Fixing the problem is exacerbated by its location, which is apparently
out of bounds of both state and federal responsibility. Since the
state ferry now uses a natural, although longer, channel, and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers is authorized to maintain only the Rollinson
Channel – which includes much of the now unused shorter channel – the
area falls into a regulatory no man's land.
“People have to understand, it’s a pass-the-buck thing,” said Burrus,
who is also a member of the waterways commission. “We have to have a
whole new realm of thinking to get this done. It’s not impossible. . .
The bottom line is we have an emergency situation. We need to get at
The troublesome area is about one-third mile long, situated between buoys 2 and 6.
One solution could be if the Corps is able to piggy-back on the Ferry
Division’s permit that it had used previously for maintenance of the
shorter channel. The question was posed to Ferry Division Deputy
Director Jed Dixon, a commission member, by Beth Midgett, whose family
owns Hatteras Landing and Teach’s Lair marinas in Hatteras village.
Dixon agreed it was worth checking whether the permit would cover a new dredging project at the problem spot.
“That would be the quickest and best route, probably, to get something done in that area,” he responded. “If it can be done.”
But Dixon added many questions would have to be answered before the
proposal could get serious consideration, including if such a permit
would authorize the type of work needed in that area.
Hatteras Inlet has changed significantly since 2002, when it was about
one-third of a mile wide. Since then, the shoreline has receded at
least a mile, most noticeably at the Hatteras spit at the end of Pole
Road. Long-time inlet users agree that the amount of shoaling
created by Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and worsened by Hurricane Irene in
2011 is unprecedented. As yet, no detailed scientific modeling has been
done to provide more insight into the changing coastal processes.
The inlet is now about two miles wide from the Hatteras spit to
Ocracoke's north point, said Steve Shriver, the Corps’ team leader of
the Outer Banks survey section.
The state Department of Transportation, through an agreement it has
with the Corps, has recently had dredging done in portions of the
current ferry channel, exhausting the available funds until Oct. 2015.
Still, the division’s hands are tied to help clear the shoaling that’s
developed outside the official channel.
“It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved,” Dixon said in a telephone interview.
“The state understands that it’s an important part of doing business in Hatteras Inlet. But we don’t have the jurisdiction.”
The 7 1/2-mile “long” ferry route, which takes about twenty
minutes more than the previous 4-mile “short” route, has been costly to
the division, adding significantly to fuel expenses and difficulty in
transporting more than one million tourists annually between Hatteras
and Ocracoke islands. Charter captains and commercial fishermen
are also paying the price of higher fuel costs and more travel time to
Coast Guard Master Chief Brent Zado, who is stationed at Hatteras
Inlet, said that it also takes the Coast Guard longer to get out.
“It’s 45 minutes, if everything is pristine, in one of our motor life
boats,” he told the commission. “So it takes a significant amount of
extra time.” And when conditions aren’t good, it can take up to 90
minutes. Plus, at low tide, he said, “We have scrubbed bottom.”
But getting the short route back to a navigable state would be a difficult challenge.
According to an article in the Aug. 11 Ocracoke Observer, Dixon
recently reported that a survey of Hatteras Inlet near Ocracoke
revealed that more than 1 million cubic yards of sand would have to be
removed to provide a shortcut across the long route, an unrealistic
amount to dredge. For comparison, he said that a dump truck holds 100
cubic yards of sand.
Rollinson Channel had been the main passage to the ocean since the
Corps dredged it out in 1936, providing a route for boats from Hatteras
village to the end of Hatteras spit. They would then turn into the
inlet in the state-maintained channel, either toward the ocean, or
southwest to the Ocracoke ferry docks. The state ferries started using
the channel in 1957, when service started transporting vehicles between
But the Rollinson section through the inlet is where the worst shoaling has occurred.
The longer route, officially designated the new official channel in
2014, requires boaters near the end of the Hatteras spit to turn right
into Barney Slough, head north and then cut over to Sloop Channel,
which runs to the south toward the Ocracoke ferry docks. Ocean-going
vessels go beyond the docks, along the north end of the island, and
into deeper water through the inlet.
At the Waterways Commission meeting last month, it was proposed that a
50-foot “widener” on either side of the existing 100 foot channel on
the east side of the original ferry route could be a solution that
could make the channel 200 feet wide. The Corps has used the
technique in the navigation channel in Oregon Inlet.
But Shriver, with the Corps, said that the widener would only be a temporary measure.
The Corps’ Chief of Navigation, Roger Bullock, is expected to provide
details about the widener idea at the next commission meeting next
Tuesday at 7 p.m., which will be held again in Hatteras at the Civic
Shriver said that a new survey map has been completed of the problem
area, and another is being done of the entire Barney Slough area.
Details of at least the first survey will be presented at the meeting,
It is still to be determined where funding will come from for whatever work can be authorized in Hatteras Inlet.
Some watermen and commission members suggested that it might be time to
ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, which could help
speed up permits.
Hatteras charter captain and commission member Ernie Foster said that
he finds it so frustrating that even with no dissent about the dire
condition of Hatteras Inlet, nothing seems to be able to get done.
“There is uniformity of understanding,” he said. “Yet, there’s a roadblock here, a roadblock there. There’s desperation here.”
The state of Hatteras Inlet....WITH SLIDE SHOW