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
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
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
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
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.