July 19, 2016

Dare board approves contract for permitting Hatteras dredging

By IRENE NOLAN


At its meeting on Monday, July 18, the Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $55,524 contract with Coastal Planning & Engineering of North Carolina (CPE-NC) to obtain permits for dredging to maintain the Hatteras Inlet navigation channels.

The board selected the Wilmington company at its June 20 meeting to assist the county in obtaining the needed permits for long-term maintenance of the sand-clogged channels that allow vessels to transit from the Hatteras docks into the ocean.

Under the contract, CPE-NC will provide engineering, environmental, and geotechnical services to the county to produce an environmental assessment, essential fish habitat assessment, and biological assessment of the project, along with a Major CAMA permit application and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit application.

The permits would seek authorization from the Army Corps and the state for maintenance of the "West Channel" -- also known as the Connecting Channel -- with the Army Corps sidecast dredge Merritt or hopper dredges Murden and Currituck.  It would also seek a permit for dredging on the Ocean Bar Channel if necessary to move from the West Channel to an offshore spoil area for disposal of the dredged sand.

Dare County manager Bobby Outten said in an interview after the meeting that it is expected to take six to nine months for the company to produce the environmental documents and receive the permits. The company would provide monthly updates to the county.

Since the Army Corps is not authorized to dredge in the Connecting Channel or the inlet bar, the county's goal is for the state, which can dredge in the area, to obtain the permits and then contract with the Corps to do the work.

Outten said that the state's Division of Water Quality has requested a memorandum of understanding from the Army Corps to allow the dredging to happen, but has not received it yet.

Outten also said that money is not the problem.  The county has the money in its inlet maintenance fund for its share of the dredging -- funds that will be matched by the sate -- but that it must wait for the MOA and the permits.

Those cannot come soon enough for the commercial boat captains who must use the inlet and for the businesses in Hatteras village that depend on that boat traffic.

During last night's public comment session, three Hatteras villagers spoke  to the board from the Fessenden Center in Buxton.

"We still have a problem with Hatteras Inlet," said Steve "Creature" Coulter, who is a member of the county's Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission.

Coulter was referring to the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Ferry Division's latest attempt to dredge the Connecting Channel, which began on June 23 and  ended on June 30.

"I went out of town one weekend and when I came back, the dredge was gone," said charter boat captain Rom Whitaker. "We need help.  Whatever we can do on this end, let us know."

"One day we have a dredge that's completed one third of the task, and the next day, it is gone," said boat captain Ernie Foster, also a waterways commission member.  "We are desperate."

Boat captains made the point at last week's commission meeting and again at last night's public comment session that the channel is still not safe to use at times, depending on the wind and the tide.

Coulter used two mid-calf height green boots to make his point to the commissioners.

"On a good day, every charter boat is going through this much water," he said, stacking one boot on top of the other.

Then he took one boot away.

"On a bad day, we're bumping bottom," he said.

"On a bad day, there's not even a foot," said Whitaker. "You get everyone to go to the front of the boat and hope you get through."

"I urge you to fast track the memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," said Dan Oden whose family owns Oden's Dock in Hatteras village.

Oden said he would welcome any of the commissioners to come down to the village either in the morning when the boats go out or in the afternoon when they come in to listen to the traffic on the marine radio as captains try to transit the most shoaled areas.  It's tough to hear, Oden noted.

Captains also again mentioned last night that transient boats are not coming to Hatteras village because they fear damaging their vessels in the inlet.

The commissioners approved the contract with CPE-NC without discussion or comment. Nor did any of the six commissioners present mention the inlet issues during commissioner's business at the end of the meeting when each of them can make comments on anything they want to. Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras village did not attend the meeting.

Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras village did not attend the meeting because of a death in his family.



            
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