January 13, 2016

Hatteras Inlet dredging finished, but problems persist


With a dredging project just completed in Hatteras Inlet, conditions that have clogged the channel since the summer have been considerably improved.

“I’ve talked to my captains and they’re pretty comfortable right now,” Jed Dixon, deputy Director of the state Ferry Division, said at Monday’s meeting of the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission. “As long as we’ve got the water there, we’re good to go.”

Dixon, who is a commission member, said that state dredge, Carolina, completed work last weekend in an 800-foot section between the Inlet Gorge and Sloop Channel, a problem area that had as little as 3.5 feet when the project began in November.
But Hatteras waterman and commission member Ernie Foster told Dixon that transiting might be fine now for the ferries, but that’s not the case for other boats.

 “I very much want to run this up the flag pole,” he said.

Foster said that he heard from one charter captain that his boat that draws six feet recently bumped bottom on the east side of the channel.

Responding, Dixon said that it appears that the dredged area on the west side along the Sloop Channel is starting to help clear that problem area along the Inlet Gorge.  But a survey that will be conducted next week will give a better idea of the situation.

“It looks like it’s opened up a lot on its own,” Dixon said. “Once we get it done, y’all can take a look at it.”

Three-fourths of the cost of the $452,000 dredge project was paid for by the state; the county share was $113,000.  A memorandum of agreement had been finalized between the parties before the work began. The county also paid $3,750 for its share of the survey costs, with the state covering the remaining 75 percent of the cost out of the state inlet management fund.

Dixon said that if further work is required, it could be done under existing permits, but there would be additional costs. The pipeline dredge is also more limited by sea conditions when working in the exposed gorge area.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to survey on a quarterly basis the former “short” ferry route between Hatteras and Ocracoke. A November survey showed sections that were extremely shallow. The ferry trip between Hatteras and Ocracoke now takes about an hour, versus the former 40 minutes. The additional time is also costly for fishermen.

Roger Bullock, the deputy chief of operations for the Corps’ Wilmington District, advised inlet users to closely watch the current channel between Buoy 12 and the Inlet Gorge that has lately been prone to shoaling. He added that the Corps is still exploring whether channel wideners or other navigation improvements are viable options in Hatteras.

“It’s not a dead issue with us,” he said. “We’re trying to keep an eye on it and see what we can do.”

The commission also is looking for assistance from state and federal officials to ask Congress to expand the Corps’ authority to maintain more area in the inlet, which would allow the agency to respond to the rapidly changing conditions in a timely, more efficient manner. 

Foster said that he wants to encourage inlet users to work cooperatively to find long- term solutions that improve navigation. Until recently, he added, little to no government money has been spent to keep Hatteras open. 

“There’s not a belief that we’re asking for the moon, “ he said. “I’m not looking for 12 feet of water. I’d be happy to have seven.”

In another matter, Dixon told the commission that there has been some discussion among environmental regulatory agencies about the possibility of dredge material being deposited on a spoil island that is closer than the current one the state uses.  The island is used as a nesting site by birds, but it has been eroding rapidly.

Dixon said a new pipeline dredge with a similar design as the Carolina, but with more horsepower and a somewhat larger pipe, will be completed by March. The old state dredge will then be retired.

“We’re eager to get it out and try it,” he said. “It’ll be a big upgrade from what we’ve got.”

The next meeting of the Waterways Commission will be held 7-9 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8, at the Fessenden Center in Buxton. 

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