much of Hatteras village suffered losses from Hurricane Matthew, the
storm did remarkably little to change conditions in Hatteras Inlet for
the charter fleet.
“The inlet has moved a little bit, and the channel has moved a little
bit,” said Steve “Creature” Coulter, a Hatteras charter boat captain.
“I wouldn’t say anything has changed. But it hasn’t gotten any better -
and it hasn’t gotten any worse.”
Post-storm surveys taken of the inlet shown at Monday’s meeting of the
Dare County Waterways Commission showed a familiar picture of the
channel, with the bend in Barney Slough pinched by shoaling.
“When the wind’s bad, it’s especially tough making those turns,” Coulter, a commission member, told the panel.
But the storm did clog the ferry channel near the Ocracoke South Dock,
requiring the new state dredge Manteo to remove more than 30,000 cubic
yards of material to allow safe transit for the larger vessels. The
six-day project was completed over the Veteran’s Day weekend.
“When we’re talking about Hatteras, “said Steve Shriver, team leader of
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ survey section, “we’re kind of
talking about two customers – the ferries and the commercial charter
The members of the board in attendance were Dan Oden, Fletcher
Willey, Ernie Foster, Ronald Lowe, Danny Couch, Chairman Dave May and
For more than a year, Hatteras charter captains have been inching their
way to and from the ocean through whatever safe passage they can
find. But the Coast Guard has had difficulty moving buoy markers
to appropriate water because of shoaling and bad weather. As a
consequence, the captains have ignored the Coast Guard buoys and used
their own poly balls to mark good water.
So far, the local fleet has managed, commission members agreed, but it
hasn’t been good for business. Although the Coast Guard issues warnings
about the inaccurate channel markers, and to not come into the waterway
without local guidance, there are still occasional boats that run
Manuel Gonzales, officer in command at the Coast Guard’s Aids to
Navigation Team in Wanchese, said that it has been impossible to get
their buoy tender to the buoys from both the ocean side and the
“It’s kind of like a buoy graveyard,” he said. “You need some time for
some good weather so (the tenders) don’t get stuck out there.”
Gonzales said he would look into the possibility of removing the sea
buoy and buoys 2 and 3, which are outside the channel. Then the good
water could be remarked.
“It’s a straight shot,” Coulter said. “We can poly ball it and people
can have a better chance of getting where they’re going than they have
Between the constraints created by weather and shoaling, the most
immediate hope for a solution to the navigation issues is a planned
dredging project in the Connecting Channel between the South Dock on
Ocracoke and the Inlet Gorge.
Dare County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairman Wally Overman said
that applications for the project -- dredging of the ocean bar and the
interior channel -- were submitted to the appropriate agencies in
late October, and the permitting process is on schedule to meet the
targeted start in March. Concurrently, the county is seeking a
Memorandum of Agreement with the state and the Corps to fund the
“I don’t see, barring some unforeseen hiccup, that this thing will go off track,” Overman said.
Once the permits and the MOA are acquired, the Corps anticipates being
able to do the county project, along with its regular maintenance
dredging in Rollinson Channel, said Roger Bullock, Corps’ chief of
navigation. The length of time involved for dredging will depend on the
amount of shoaling, he said.
At the same time, the Corps is also looking further out into the
future, he said, in the hopes that the former historical ferry channel,
the so-called “short route” between the Hatteras docks and the Inlet
Gorge - with the help of Mother Nature - will start to open up.
“The short route right now – we cannot navigate it,” Bullock
said. “And if we can’t navigate it, we can’t dredge it.”
A geotechnical contractor hired by the agency, he said, is
currently taking soil samples in anticipation of the Corps conducting
an environmental assessment for advanced maintenance in the federal
channel. If the project becomes do-able, it would place 50-foot
“wideners” on either side of the authorized 100-foot wide channel.
“We just want to have a full picture out there,” he said.
Bullock explained in a later telephone interview that if the eroded tip
of Hatteras Island does the normal coastal pattern of rebuilding, the
Corps wants to be ready to act. But so far, regular surveys in the last
year have shown barely any change.
“We have to be very patient,” he said. “Mother Nature is going to
dictate where that channel is going to be, and there’s not a lot we can
do about it.”
The next meeting of the Waterways Commission will be held on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Fessenden Center in Buxton.