August 3, 2016

Dare board addresses Hatteras Inlet issues, hears Zika update

By IRENE NOLAN

At its meeting on Monday, Aug. 1, the Dare County Board of Commissioners heard from the chairman and the vice-chairman  about Hatteras Inlet issues and later got an update from the county  health director on the Zika virus.

"We've been working diligently for a number of weeks now to get (Hatteras) inlet open, and we're closer than we have been in the past" said Commissioner Bob Woodard during his chairman's remarks at the beginning of the meeting.

Woodard also talked about the county citizens' group that is charged with advising the commissioners on Hatteras Inlet issues -- the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission.

Woodard noted that the terms of three commission members expired in June.  At their June 6 meeting, the board unanimously reappointed Allen Burrus of Hatteras village to the waterways group until his term as a county commissioner expires later this year. The board also reappointed Hatteras charter boat captain Ernie Foster.

The third member whose term was expiring, Jim Tobin, did not wish to be reappointed, so Woodard nominated, and the board unanimously approved, one of the four applicants for the commission, Holly White.

Woodard said at Monday's meeting that White's background and occupation as a biologist would be an asset to her on the waterways commission.  However, a month after the appointment, Woodard said, White e-mailed the county that she couldn't serve because she no longer lives in Dare County.

White had filled out the application in February 2014 when she lived in Kill Devil Hills.  Woodard says the county keeps applications for its advisory groups on file for three years.

In addition, Woodard said that Waterways Commission member Arvin Midgett wishes to step down for health reasons.

That gives the board two seats to fill on the eight-member board, the chairman noted.  And he urged the board to agree to discuss filling them at the next board meeting on Monday, Aug. 15, so that the new members can attend the next Waterways Commission meeting, which has been moved to Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Fessenden Center in Buxton.

Woodard noted that the advisory  panel has not had a quorum at its last two meetings -- in June and July -- and that he didn't want another month to go by without a quorum of members at the meeting.

Woodard also said he had stressed to other members of the Waterways Commission how critical their attendance at meetings is.

He urged anyone who is interested in serving on the commission to fill out an application on the county website,  http://www.darenc.com/gov/brdcomm.asp.

Vice-chairman Wally Overman noted that the application must be turned in by the time the agenda for the next meeting is published, which should be on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

The board agreed to take up the appointments at the Aug. 15 meeting, which is at 5 p.m.

Later in the meeting, Overman gave an update on the county's effort to get dredging done in the shoaled up Connecting Channel, which is critical for mariners for travel to and from the Hatteras village docks and the Atlantic Ocean.

Recent short-term dredging by the N.C. Department of Transportation's Ferry Division has only been partially successful and has had to stop for safety reasons.

Overman said that the county continues to work with an engineering firm it has recently hired, Coastal Planning & Engineering of North Carolina, to obtain permits for long-term dredging of the Connecting Channel.

He also said that the state continues to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a memorandum of agreement so the Army Corps can use its dredges in the Connecting Channel to do the work for the state.

In addition, Overman said, the county  contacted a local dredge company on Hatteras Island to see if that company could help with dredging the east end of the channel.  The local dredger, Overman said, said he was unable to do it for safety reasons.

"He likened it to bringing a knife to a gun fight," said Overman.

Meanwhile, local captains have brought to the county’s attention that there is an "opening" on the old short ferry channel. If about 300 yards in this area is dredged, Overman said, "it would provide our mariners with a short route to the Gorge and would get them out there faster."

The area will be surveyed by the Army Corps, Overman said, to see if it can be dredged.  If the area can, in fact, be dredged, and if it is covered by federal permits, there is federal money available, Overman said, and the job can perhaps get done quickly.

However, he stressed that whatever happens with the possibility of opening up part of the old ferry channel, the county will continue to forge ahead with its long-term plans for dredging in the Connecting Channel.

ZIKA VIRUS

Dare County Health Director Sheila Davies gave the commissioners an update on the Zika virus.

Zika is a mosquito-borne emerging arbovirus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947, and which is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and the West Nile virus. Since 2007, the world has seen Zika outbreaks in Gabon, Micronesia, and French Polynesia, and since 2015, there have been endemic transmissions in Central and South America.

The virus is primarily transmitted through mosquitoes, but may also be transmitted through other means, such as sexual contact.

Symptoms like headache, fever, and joint or muscle pain can appear within two to seven days of being infected and are “as uncomfortable as the flu,” according to Davies, although only one in five people may actually experience symptoms once they have contracted the virus.

For most people, contracting Zika is not life-threatening, but the big concern is the impact on pregnant women since the virus can cause birth defects in children, which is what brought it into the public eye.

Davies noted that Zika had been in the news over the weekend, even as she prepared her report for the commissioners.  Officials in Florida have now identified 14 cases of people in the Miami area who they believe were infected with the virus by mosquitoes in the area.  Until last week, all of the cases in the U.S. were thought to have been contacted by travelers to other countries where the mosquito-borne virus is prevalent.

She reported that there have been no locally acquired Zika cases in North Carolina.

Davies said that the county health department staff members regularly participate in statewide conference calls about the virus, stay informed about reporting requirements and testing protocols, and  issues news releases when necessary to keep the public informed.

The health department has provided a Zika virus web page, www.darenc.com/zika.  And a video about the virus has been produced by Government TV.

Click here to see the Zika video.

The health director also stressed the importance of preventing the virus through taking such steps as eliminating standing water around your home, keeping mosquitoes out of your house, preventing mosquito bites with EPA-registered insect repellent, and repairing cracks, gaps and open vents on septic pipes and tanks.

Dare County has a mosquito control program at www.darenc.com/mosquito.

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