September 14, 2016
Waterways Commission works on new mission, same old problems
By CATHERINE KOZAK
that the Dare County Waterways Commission has a more inclusive name,
the panel will soon update its official mission by retiring its focus
on securing jetties at Oregon Inlet -- a goal as obsolete as the days
of fat federal budgets for coastal projects.
its meeting Monday in Manteo, commission administrator Jenny Jones said
that county manager Bobby Outten is currently working on creating the
new mission statement.
with its month-old moniker, the commission has a fresh board whose new
Hatteras-dominated membership is also reflecting significant change.
Attention has turned almost exclusively to the south, while entrusting
care of Oregon Inlet to the Oregon Inlet Task Force.
in addition to recommitting most of its energy toward Hatteras Inlet,
the commission will continue oversight as needed on Stumpy Point and
Rodanthe harbors and channels. And the monthly meetings will
still alternate between Manteo and Buxton, a schedule that began only
in the last year.
Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said he
supported the commission’s narrower focus, but urged members to make
more of an effort to come regularly to meetings.
“That’s critical,” he said. “We need people to attend and participate.”
members Dan Oden and Danny Couch, joined by Ernie Foster and Steve
“Creature” Coulter, and chairman Dave May, were present, but another
newcomer, Ronald Lowe, had missed his second meeting in a row. Members
Fletcher Willey and Allen Burrus were also absent.
was only a little more than a year ago that the 33-year-old panel –
previously known as the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission -- was
set to be absorbed into the Task Force, which was established in 2013
to resolve severe shoaling problems in Oregon Inlet. But with Hatteras
Inlet beset by its own issues with clogged channels, islanders pushed
back and demanded as much attention to its waterway. Eventually, it was
decided to let each different panel dedicate its attention to its own
troubled inlet, with each working cooperatively when appropriate.
arrangement has worked well for Hatteras Inlet, which is now getting
much more needed attention from the state and federal governments.
County has hired a consultant to help secure permits for the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to dredge the area around the Connecting Channel and
the ocean bar, and the process is on schedule to have permits by
spring, Dare County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairman Wally Overman
told the Waterways Commission.
The work would be paid for by Dare County, with matching funds provided by the state.
also said that after consulting with partners and stakeholders, the
county chose to have the project done under a one-year renewable
agreement with the state and the Corps that would allow multiple
opportunities to dredge in the same year.
“This option,” Overman said, “seems like an answer to our prayers.”
said in a later telephone interview that the county is planning to have
the Memorandum of Agreement ready to sign after the permits are ready,
so that the one-year clock on the agreement doesn’t start running until
the dredging project is permitted.
Charter boat captains, meanwhile, will be crossing their fingers that the inlet doesn’t shoal up any worse than it is.
a slide of the Aug. 25 survey, Steve Shriver, team leader of the Corps’
survey section, pointed to an area in the channel near Buoy 12 where a
hard right turn is required to get into Barney Slough.
What the survey showed, he explained, is that a shoal there is growing and pinching the channel.
making it an even more acute turn,” Shriver said. “It’s getting
narrower as well as shifting to the east. We’ve been watching this for
several years now. That area is really squeezing down.”
later telephone interview, Shriver that there is multiple shoaling in
the area, going in different directions and creating several turns that
the ferries need to navigate.
Shriver said that a new survey taken Tuesday morning would show what effect, if any, Hermine had on the conditions.
But Steve “Creature” Coulter said the storm really didn’t change much in the inlet – and it certainly didn’t improve anything.
boats ran aground this last weekend,” he said, referring to the
Connecting Channel that runs from Sloop Channel on the backside of
Ocracoke to the inlet gorge.
boaters ignore the Coast Guard buoys and follow good water with their
own poly ball marker, he said, but it’s operators of out-of-town
vessels who can easily get into trouble.
buoys that are there are in the wrong place . . . The problem is,
people see the buoy, run to them and run aground. There’s a marked
channel with two or three shoals in it.”
a Hatteras charter boat captain, said that he understands that the
Coast Guard has been slammed since the storm and may have to pull the
buoys because of the difficulty of remarking the channel. But the
situation leaves captains in a lurch.
damaging our business enough as it is – the perception that people are
getting when they say they pulled the buoys at Hatteras, “ he said.
“That’s not an inviting option to have.”
Coulter emphasized that he does not blame the Coast Guard, which is
hindered because it cannot survey the channel because it is not
ocean bar is OK,” he said of the current conditions. “What our problem
is is not getting across the bar. The problem is once you get inside
the commission members drift back to a comparison of maintenance of
Hatteras Inlet versus that of Oregon Inlet, and despite the new faces,
this meeting was no different. Authorization to dredge in Hatteras,
limited to “best water,” is more restrictive than that at Oregon Inlet,
where dredging is permissible all over the inlet, and funding
available for Hatteras is more limited.
even when work by the federal dredge is done in Hatteras, channels are
carved to a 100-foot width, compared to Oregon Inlet’s 400-foot
authorized width, leaving just inches between 46-wide ferries when they
have to pass in the same channel.
original (authorization) document says follow the best water,” Coulter
said to Roger Bullock, Army Corps of Engineers chief of navigation.
“Couldn’t the best water have changed?”
Bullock: “We argue this every time.”
Coulter, with a smile: “I know.”
said that, unlike Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet is in the category for
smaller bodies of water that have less traffic and smaller vessels. The
irony is that Oregon Inlet today is mostly used by charter and
average-size fishing vessels, and Hatteras Inlet is crossed all day
every day by huge vehicular ferries.
about fishing,” he explained about Hatteras Inlet. “We’ve had folks up
in the beltway recognizing that it’s multi-use channel.”
The next meeting of the commission is at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 in Buxton.