October 22, 2015
Dredging Hatteras Inlet problem area may finally get doneWith
navigation through Hatteras Inlet close to impossible since recent
storms, the inlet’s troubles occupied most of the discussion at
Tuesday’s meeting of the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Surveyors were working in the inlet yesterday to provide the
information needed to clear an area of the old ferry channel between
the Ocracoke ferry terminal and the inlet gorge.
“The state has authorized the ferry division to put our dredge out
there and to use our spoil site,” Jed Dixon, deputy director of the
state Ferry Division and a commission member, told the panel.
Dixon said that the spoil area off Ocracoke was at capacity, but that
sand needed for upcoming dune repair work by the state Department of
Transportation on a storm-damaged section of Highway 12 would make room
for more disposal.
Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said in a later telephone interview
that the county will pay the state $3,750 in matching costs for the
survey work. The remaining 75 percent of the cost will be paid out of
the state inlet management fund.
“The reason we’re doing that is because it can be done quickly,” he said of the planned project, known as the “northern route.”
Last month, the commission wanted to dredge in another natural channel
that would be further away from the inlet, pegged the “southern
route.” But that plan has gotten bogged down in the review
process, so the “northern route” is essentially Plan B.
“The reason we’re doing that is because it can be done quickly,” Outten
said. “They both accomplish the same thing” - that is, provide
passage from the ferry channel to the gorge. Based on anecdotal
information from mariners, he said, it is believed that the shoaled
area is small.
Both areas had earlier been identified as options, but the southern
route was deemed safer because it was more protected. That project,
however, required a new permit for the Army Corps of Engineers to
change from a pipeline dredge to a sidecaster dredge. When the proposal
went out for review, concerns were raised about the impact on submerged
In addition to delay for additional review, Outten said, an agreement
between the county, the state and the Corps has not been finalized. The
agreement, which would allow the county to provide funds for dredging
projects, is a precursor to the Corps doing the dredge project.
But there are already state permits in place that would allow the Ferry
Division to do dredging in the northern route, and between last
month’s and this month’s commission meetings, the county asked the
division – which in essence is acting as a contractor -- to pursue the
survey and dredge work on the northern route.
Survey results are expected by Friday, Oct. 23, and then the Ferry
Division very quickly will be able to determine the extent of dredging
required and the cost.
Outten said that the county Board of Commissioners has not taken a vote
on funding the dredging, since the survey is needed to provide details
of the project.
“There’s nothing to decide until we get the information,” he said.
Still, that project is only a short term solution to the shoaling in
Hatteras Inlet, and the commission agreed to look further into the
possibility of getting the former short ferry channel reopened.
The current long channel takes much more time and money for the charter
fleet and the ferries.
The Corps has continued to do quarterly surveys in the short channel,
which became impassable several years ago, to keep an eye on any
changes. Another survey is scheduled this month; the last one in July
was not encouraging.
“It was in pretty rough shape – pretty bleak,” Steve Shriver, team
leader of the Corps’ survey section, said in a telephone interview. “It
could’ve gotten worse, it could’ve gotten better. We just don’t know
until we get out there and do the survey.”
Hatteras charter boat captains have been struggling to get out of the
inlet since summer storms left as little as two feet of water between
Buoys 13 to 15 in the channel. But the solution - dredging - has been
complicated by confounding state and federal jurisdiction in areas of
the inlet, frustrating local captains as well as everyone on the
“There’s been a lot going on,” said member Allen Burrus, who represents
Hatteras on the Board of Commissioners, “and there’s been nothing going
Dixon said that it would make sense for the Corps to have the authority
to dredge where it sees dredging is needed. That is what the agency
does in Oregon Inlet. At Hatteras, however, each time new shoals crop
up that need attention, the Corps can respond only if the project is
allowed under the existing permit. If not, a lengthy application
process has to be done.
“The authorization needs to change,” he said.
Rom Whitaker, a charter captain from Hatteras, told the commission that
it’s been 14 months since the commission was made aware of Hatteras
Inlet’s increasing shoaling problem. Fishermen worry every day about
breaking a shaft on their boats.
“And we still have a problem,” he said. “You wake up with a knot in your stomach. You fish with a knot in your stomach.
“We’ve got the money,” he said. “We’ve got the equipment. All we need is a piece of paper.”
In an emotional plea, Ernie Foster, another Hatteras charter captain,
and a commission member, emphasized that there is no more time to waste.
“If we have normal tides and nothing is done for the winter, none
of us will be able to get out,” he said. “None of us.”