May 12, 2016
Hatteras Inlet users focus on problems with marking channel
By CATHERINE KOZAK
and summer fishing tournaments have only increased frustration for
charter boat captains still struggling to get in and out of
sand-clogged Hatteras Inlet.
And little comfort was offered at the most recent meeting of the Dare
County Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission, which has been unable to
nail down a short-term solution to shoaling that is so hazardous the
Coast Guard is unable to tend to its buoys.
“Anyone who doesn’t have local knowledge can’t use that inlet without
following one of us,” commission Vice-Chairman Ernie Foster said during
the meeting on Monday evening, May 9, in Manteo. “If they do, they’d be
The Coast Guard began broadcasting a notice to mariners months ago,
warning that shoaling has encroached the marked channel. And now it is
that very shoaling that prevents the Coast Guard from accessing five
buoys in the inlet. Buoys 5 and 6 on the bar are especially
“When there is no marked channel on the bar that works, it’s probably time to fix something,” Foster said.
Jason Burke, Coast Guard officer in charge of the Aids to Navigation
team, explained that the shoaling has made it too dangerous for the
buoy tender to access the markers, and a survey is needed to be able to
figure out how to address the issue, but it will take months to
determine if a possible resolution is feasible.
“It’s a challenge when we don’t have anything to go on,” he said. “All we have is water color and break.”
Burke told commission members that Coast Guard Sector North Carolina
has contacted the Marine Corps about the possibility of borrowing a
Marine vessel that is equipped with hydrological survey
equipment. The Corps does not outsource such contracts, he added.
“This is very tentative,” Burke said. “We would be trying to get some kind of picture out there.”
The Smilax, the Coast Guard’s buoy tender that services Hatteras, he
said, draws about 7 feet and doesn’t work well in rough conditions.
Some commission members suggested that the Army Corps of Engineers
multi-use vessel, the Snell, would be capable of accessing the
But the Corps’ Steve Shriver, survey section team leader, said later
that the Snell – which had just completed 10 days of work at Buoy 14 in
Hatteras Inlet, has already departed for the Gulf of Mexico and would
be gone for six months.
During the meeting, Shriver showed the most recent survey of the former
ferry channel route, from the Barney Slough turn to the inlet gorge.
“In a nutshell, basically there’s not much improvement,” he said.
In some spots toward the middle of the channel, Shriver said, there is
as little as 1 to 2 feet of water. About 4 to 5 feet is required in
order to dredge.
The Corps plans to survey every other week, Shriver added. Monitoring
it on a regular basis will allow the dredge to come in if the channel
starts to scour.
Meanwhile, Dare County has made an inquiry of an engineering firm to
determine what would be required to contract with the Army Corps to
have either its hopper or sidecaster dredge work in the area between
the natural channel and the Inlet Gorge, County Manager Bobby Outten
said in a telephone interview.
“The county is trying to get a handle on the permitting process,” he said.
At the same time, Outten said, state Sen. Bill Cook is helping to
secure a memorandum of agreement between the state and the Corps that
would be needed to get the work done.
At the Waterways Commission meeting in April, the commission agreed to
ask the county to pursue whatever was necessary to get the Corps’
dredge to work for about 10 days to clear sand across the ocean bar and
through the inlet gorge into Sloop Channel alongside Ocracoke.
Additional dredging would be needed again in the fall.
The commission members have also asked the county to find a way to
restore the severely shoaled old ferry route, which is the fastest
route to the ocean and the Ocracoke Ferry Terminal.
The “Connecting Channel” – the name recently coined by the commission
to describe the shortcut to the Inlet Gorge – has “pretty good flow”
for the time being, said commission member Steve “Creature” Coulter, a
charter boat captain. But he added that transiting into and out of the
inlet is nearly impossible, tournament season is here, and livelihoods
are already suffering.
“We’re trying to jump through every hoop and nothing happens,” said
Coulter, a charter boat captain. “Everybody goes ‘The federal
government doesn’t have enough money to do their job.’ Well, somebody’s
got to get the damn job done.”
“The doors keep slamming on the short-term stuff,” said member Danny Couch. “But we’ve got to keep pushing.”
Jim Tobin, the commission’s former vice-chairman, submitted his
resignation, citing the difficulty of attending meetings every other
month on Hatteras Island.