The Dare County Waterways Commission met on
February 13 at the Fessenden Center in Buxton to review updates on the
steps required for the upcoming dredging project for Hatteras Inlet.
The Waterways Commission's immediate goal
is to keep the Connecting Channel west of the Inlet Gorge - or the long
route - that maritime traffic has been using open, and the long-term
goal is to reopen the shorter route east of the gorge, which is a much
more complicated project, logistically.
All six members of the current commission were
present, (one seat remains at large), and representatives from the US
Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the NCDOT Ferry
Division, and members of the Hatteras fishing community were at the
meeting as well.
The inlet has been especially shallow in recent
weeks, and several fishermen at the meeting noted that going through
the inlet during low tide is a nearly impossible task.
“The tide is extremely low this time of year,”
said commission member Steve “Creature” Coulter in a phone interview
after the meeting. “There have been some people who have bumped bottom,
and as we’re heading into the season where we’re all going to be
fishing a lot more, everyone wants it taken care of as soon as
To provide relief, Dare County 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. The project will be
done under a one-year renewable agreement with the state and the Corps,
which will allow multiple opportunities to dredge in the same year as
“My understanding is that once we get the permits
and MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] in place, it’s a matter of signing
paperwork again to renew the permits,” said Coulter. “In other words,
once you get it, you can renew it as needed like a driver’s license –
without the work required to [acquire the permits in the first place.]”
The state permits are in place and the CAMA
permit was issued on December 22, 2016. The water quality permit
has also been issued, and a letter has been submitted by the state
Office of Historic Preservation that says that as long as the dredging
follows the same area that’s been dredged before, there were no
objections from the office on the project. “At one point, the [Office
of Historic Preservation] had raised concerns there may be artifacts,
and that a survey may be required - but we don’t have to do that now,”
The MOA is currently under review at the council
office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) in Atlanta. According
to COE Project Manager Robert Medlock at the meeting, all permits and
paperwork required to start dredging should be in place within 30 days.
Once the dredging can begin, the dredge vessel
Merritt will arrive first to clear the way for up to two hopper
dredge(s). “We need the Merritt to start with, so we can get enough
water to get the other dredge out here,” said Coulter. “One of the
potential problems is that the Corps has actually gotten all of their
dredge work planned out for the rest of the year, and we’re going to
have to get [the dredges] when we can. But we think we’ll be able to
get the dredge Merritt down here pretty quickly.”
“As far as scheduling the hopper dredge to come
in, that’s when a scheduling conflict may occur,” added Coulter. “But
the Corps has said at the meetings that it didn’t seem like it would be
a problem once we got the permit.”
It was also reported at the meeting that the
recent adjustments to the ferry channel – which was dredged last month
- has provided some relief to the formerly tight crossing. The former
“S-Curves,” which made it difficult for ferries to pass each other in
between the Federal Channel and Barney’s Slough, has been somewhat
straightened, which has made it easier for the large ferries to
navigate and maneuver through the water. “We are real pleased with it,”
said Coulter. “It’s a safer route for passing and meeting other
The US Coast Guard also noted at the meeting that
as the channel gets low / shallow, they may use the Ocracoke facilities
in order to ensure continual access when needed.
There were also several proposals at the meeting regarding the long-term dredging plan, as well as the empty board seat.
Waterways Commission member and Dare County Board
of Commissioners (BOC) member Danny Couch recommended that a
promotional video be created - like the one produced for Oregon Inlet -
and an economic assessment of the contribution of Hatteras Inlet be
conducted in order to promote the long term dredging project.
Couch also recommended that Natalie Perry
Kavanagh be recommended to the BOC, (which appoints Waterways
Commission members), to fill the empty seventh seat of the commission.
The recommendation was approved by the commission members.
The next meeting for the Dare County Waterways Commission will be on Monday, March 13 at 7 p.m. in Manteo.