June 7, 2016

Dare board takes action to dredge troublesome Hatteras Inlet channel

By IRENE NOLAN


For the first time, Hatteras islanders stepped up to the microphone at the Fessenden Center in Buxton on Monday morning, June 6,  to speak to the Dare County Board of Commissioners at their regular monthly meeting in Manteo via a live hookup.

Four islanders spoke during the public comment session, and all four addressed problems with shoaling in the channel in Hatteras Inlet that has become known to watermen as the "Connecting Channel."

Later in the meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve up to $150,000 from the county's inlet management fund to help pay for the N.C. Department of Transportation Ferry Division to take another shot at dredging the troublesome area that commercial, recreational, and private boaters must use to get to and from the Atlantic Ocean.

First to speak to the board was Natalie Kavanagh of Frisco, whose husband, Jay, is captain of the charter boat, Bite Me.

Since the shoaling has become so dangerous, she said, her husband now calls her "every morning when he gets through the inlet and every afternoon when he gets back in" to let her know he is safe.

Steve Coulter, caption of the Sea Creature and a member of the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission, told the commissioners that, "Boats are running aground on a regular basis, depending on the tide."

At low tide, he said, many boats are "bumping bottom."

He also spoke to his concern that the U.S. Coast Guard has not been able to properly align its buoys to mark the channel because the area is too shallow for its buoy tenders to get to them. This, he said, is a safety concern for boaters, especially those not familiar with the inlet.

Dan Oden, whose family owns Oden's Dock in Hatteras village, noted that the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament gets underway later this week, based in Morehead City, just south of Hatteras.

"We've got customers who have fished the Big Rock out of Hatteras Inlet for 30 years now and this year they aren't coming," Oden said.  They aren't coming to Hatteras village, he said, because they don't want to damage their boats in the shoaled-up inlet.

Oden said he was concerned for his business but also for the economy of Hatteras village and for all of Dare County.

Beth Midgett, who family owns marinas in Hatteras village, echoed the words of board Chairman Bob Woodard, who calls the county inlets "highways to work" for local fishermen.

"I am happy that NCDOT is stepping up again," she said, "but we need a long-term solution also."

The other speakers agreed that the dredging by NCDOT, which could get underway this month, would be a much appreciated short-term solution, but in there must be a plan to keep the channel open for the long-term..

County manager Robert Outten said that the county will not know exactly how much the short-term dredging will cost until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finishes its most recent survey of the water depths in the Connecting Channel, which is expected sometime in the next few days.

The board approved spending up to $150,000 to speed up the process, so Outten would not have to return to the board when the survey is completed and cost estimates are made. The county will pay one-fourth of the cost of the dredging, and three-fourths will come from the state's Inlet and Waterways Fund.

The DOT Ferry Division dredged the Connecting Channel last fall and winter with its pipeline dredge, Carolina.  The estimated cost of that project was $452,000 cost. However, as it turned the work was completed several weeks early because of rough weather at a cost of only $273,000.

However, since the project was finished in January, both the west end and the east end of the Connecting Channel are filling up with sand again.

At today's meeting, Commissioner Wally Overman noted that the Ferry Division would again use the dredge Carolina, and that the dredging would be weather dependent. 

Ferry division officials have noted that there are safely concerns with operating the state dredge on the east end in of the Connecting Channel where dynamic and strong ocean current can overwhelm the smallish, flat-bottomed dredge.

Outten also got the go-ahead from the board at Monday's meeting to advertise for RFQs (requirements for qualifications) to hire an engineering firm to obtain permits for long-term dredging to keep the connecting channel open, preferably with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopper dredge.

Outten said one engineering firm that the county has been talking with is estimating that permits will cost about $55,000 to $60,000.

The Army Corps is not federally authorized to dredge in the connecting channel, but state Sen. Bill Cook is working through his office to come up with a memorandum of understanding between the Corps and either the state or Dare County to allow those entities to get the permits and hire out the job to the Army Corps.

Outten said that the long-term process of permits and MOUs had been expected to take about nine months, but there is a possibility the time could be shortened somewhat -- though no one knows at this point, what a shorter wait might look like.

Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras village, came back to the safety problem of having buoys that don't properly mark the channels.

"We moved the lighthouse in Buxton," Burrus said, "we ought to be able to figure out how to move a buoy off a shoal."

Also on the board's agenda Monday were three appointments for members of the Waterways Commission whose terms are expiring this month.  Allen Burrus, who has been a member since 2007, and Ernie Foster, a member since 2008, both asked to be reappointed. 

The board approved appointing Burrus until his term as a commissioner ends in early December.  Burrus, a Democrat,  he declined to run again for his seat because of health reasons, and will be replaced by Daniel C. Couch of Buxton, who has no Republican opposition in the November election.

The commissioners also reappointed Ernie Foster, who was elected co-chairman of the Waterways Commission in April.

Jim Tobin of Manns Harbor resigned from the commission and was replaced today with Holly White of Kill Devil Hills, who is a fisheries biologist with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

The next meeting of the county's Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission will be Monday, June 13, at 7 p.m. at the Fessenden Center in Buxton.  The meeting is open to the public.

Also, today's meeting of the Board of Commissioners was the second opportunity that Hatteras Island have had to speak live via hookup with Manteo during public comment and public hearings.

The first opportunity was at the May 2 meeting of the Commissioners, and no member of the public came to speak.  Two weeks later on May 16, the board moved its meeting to Buxton for the public hearing on the special service district to help pay for beach nourishment in north Buxton,

The public is invited to each of the board's scheduled meetings to speak at public comment on any issue or to public hearing on specific topics. Pubic comment usually starts shortly after the meeting begins at 9 a.m.

The next meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners will be on Monday, June 20, at 5 p.m. in Manteo -- and in Buxton for Hatteras islanders.


 







            
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