July 13, 2016
Hatteras boat captains unhappy that state halted dredging project
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
Hatteras Island watermen lashed out at the state Ferry Division on
Monday, July 11, at the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways
Commission meeting in Manteo, despite that there were not enough
members to actually hold an official meeting.
Only three of the eight commission members were in attendance: Ernie
Foster, Steve “Creature” Coulter, and Danny Couch, all island
residents. Several Hatteras charter captains and a marina owner were in
the audience, but there were no representatives present from the Ferry
Division, the state or the county.
After determining there was not a quorum, commission administrator
Jenny Gray Jones agreed that a general discussion with the
representatives of the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard would be
acceptable, as long as no official business or action was part of
Foster, a Hatteras charter boat captain, immediately stated his
unhappiness with the Ferry Division’s recent decision to abruptly stop
its dredge from working at a clogged channel in Hatteras Inlet.
“We just had a dredging problem that went nowhere instantly,” he said
angrily. “I am beyond the point of wanting to exercise reasonable
Foster said that he had heard third-hand that the work ceased because
of concerns about the power cable under the channel, but that no one
bothered to consult with the power company.
Persistent shoaling at the Connecting Channel between the ferry channel
near Ocracoke with the Inlet Gorge has made it nearly impossible for
vessels to transit from Hatteras docks to and from the ocean.
“I finally got out of my inlet for the first time yesterday,” said Jeff
Oden, a Hatteras charter captain. “I’ve been a month and a half coming
and going out of Ocracoke Inlet. It’s real frustrating.”
Participation in recent fishing tournaments was much less than usual,
and many of the boats were forced to go out through Ocracoke Inlet.
“We were told by all the state people, all the way up to the governor,
that the dredge was coming to fix the west end,” Rom Whitaker, also a
Hatteras charter captain, said. “I went out of town for a few days. I
come back and the dredge is gone. What is the problem?”
At the June 13 commission meeting, Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed
Dixon said that an emergency dredging project with the state pipeline
dredge Carolina would start June 20 and be expected to last about four
weeks. He told the commission that the western side of the shoal would
be dredged, but it would be dangerous to address much of the eastern
end because the area is too exposed to ocean conditions.
The Carolina had done some work at the spot in the winter, and was
unable to safely work beyond the western side of the shoal. During a
brainstorming meeting held in March with the Corps of Engineers and the
Ferry Division at the Coastal Studies Institute, Ferry Division
Director Ed Goodwin stated that he would not allow the state dredge to
work there again.
“I will not risk anything in equipment and manpower to go beyond that,”
he had said. “We can’t do any more than we have done . . . We cannot go
Goodwin did not return a message on Monday seeking comment, and Dixon
directed questions about the dredging to the division’s public
information officer, Tim Hass.
In an interview, Hass defended the recent dredging project.
“We did exactly what we said we would do,” he said. “We said we would
go as far as we could and let the captain go as far as they could.”
Hass said that the dredge was able to get to a depth of 12 feet mean
lower-low water, but the decision was made to stop because of concerns
about hazardous conditions and the potential for cutting the cable.
“We’re not going to put the safety of the crew in peril,” he said. “We
surveyed it and the captain decided that was the extent he could
dredge. They were at the point that continued dredging might possibly
cut the power line.”
Tideland Electric had been consulted before work had been done in the
winter, Hass said. The company provided the general coordinates of the
cable, which had been placed six feet below bottom when it was laid.
“But they could not guarantee that’s where it still was,” he added.
The dredge started work on June 23 and stopped about June 30, he said.
But the crew had to wait until after the July Fourth weekend to depart
because of boat traffic.
Hass said that nothing had changed about Goodwin’s earlier vow about use of the state dredge.
“He left it up to the captain,” he said. “The captain knows that water better than anyone.”
But in the discussion Monday evening, Couch said it would not have been
difficult, with today’s updated technology, to ascertain the location
of the cable.
“It’s an excuse,” he said.
Part of the frustration expressed at the meeting centered on the lack
of communication with mariners about the project and its unexpected
Wally Overman, a Dare County commissioner who has served as the board’s
liaison for the commission, guessed the information deficit could be
blamed on a busy summer and holiday distraction.
“I hate that this kind of fell through the cracks, “ he said in telephone interview. “Normally, we’re Johnny-on-the-spot.”
Overman said a survey will be done by next week that will show how much
of the shoal the dredge was able to clear. Meanwhile, he said that work
has been expedited to obtain permits and a memorandum of agreement
between the state and the Corps so that the Corps will be able to
dredge the Connecting Channel.
The permits will allow both the sturdier sidecaster or hopper dredges to do the work, said Dare County Manager Bobby Outten.
Outten said he has no idea what created the miscommunication about the
recent dredging project, which he said will cost the county less than
The Dare County Board of Commissioners had voted at its June 6 meeting
to tap up to $150,000 from the county’s inlet management fund for 25
percent of the cost for emergency dredging, with the state picking up
“The state is a good partner, and they’re trying to help,” Outten
said in a telephone interview. “I know the state was willing to
go out there and do the dredging, and we were willing to fund it.”
Looking to the future, Couch said a study that will be conducted on the
economic impact of the inlets is an important step in nailing down the
funding for a long-term solution.
“If we’re out of business before it gets done,” Coulter said, “it’s not going to help any of us.”