March 14, 2017

Dredge work awaits signed Hatteras Inlet agreement


BY CATHERINE KOZAK


The final agreement everybody on the Dare County Waterways Commission has been waiting months for may, or may not, allow dredging in Hatteras Inlet to begin this month. In fact, the memorandum of agreement between the state, the county and the Corps has seemed stuck on its own kind of bureaucratic shoal. 

At the March 13 commission meeting in Manteo, members of the commission couldn’t help show their frustration at the slow pace the permit has crawled between officials’ and lawyers’ offices.

“The key here is we were able to get agreement on a document that we were able to send to our Atlanta regional office,” said James Medlock, civil works project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re just real close to having an agreement ready to go.”

Responding, Chairman David May said it sounded as if very little has changed in the last 30 days.

“I don’t want to shoot the messenger, but at the last meeting, you said almost the same thing you said tonight, ” he told Medlock.

With state permits in place, the agreement needs to be signed by the Corps and the state before funds can be provided by Dare County and the state to the Corps to dredge a shoaled area in the Connecting Channel west of the Inlet Gorge.

Medlock had said in January that it would take about 30 days to execute the agreement. The Corps would need about two weeks to schedule the project.

The Groundhog Day feeling was reinforced by the same concerns voiced by the same member Dan Oden, a Hatteras marina owner, who has repeatedly expressed worry about the work getting done before the April-September dredging moratorium kicks in.

“I just want to make sure that we’re ready on April 1,” Oden said at the meeting on Monday. “I just want to make sure that Plan B is solid.”

At the Waterways Commission meeting in January, Oden had expressed urgency that the dredging be completed in time for the spring fishing tournament season. Many out-of-town anglers last year were reluctant to risk damaging their vessels by transiting the sand-clogged inlet.

Again, he was assured by Wally Overman, Vice-Chair of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, that an extension would be a given by the state, who reiterated what he had told Oden in January.

As an aside, Overman said that U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, has recently sent an email to the Corps wanting to know where the agreement stood in the approval process.

“I don’t know whether that’s going to help or hurt,” Overman said. If the agreement was kicked from a desk in the Corps’ Atlanta office – where it currently sits - to Washington, he explained, it could cause weeks more of delay.

Other members who attended were Steve “Creature” Coulter, Fletcher Willey, Ernie Foster, Danny Couch and Ronald Lowe.

The planned dredge project would involve using a Corps dredge to clear a stubborn sand patch in the Connecting Channel located between the Ocracoke South Dock and the Inlet Gorge. Relative to other dredging projects, the work is not very involved, but it has taken months for the MOA to clear all the bureaucratic hurdles.

Once the agreement is signed, it will allow the Corps to dredge up to four times a year for the county in the inlet’s non-federal waters. But the catch is the Corps dredge can only do the county’s project if it is already working nearby in a federally authorized channel.

In a related matter, Roger Bullock, the deputy chief of operations for the Corps' Wilmington District, said that the sidecast dredge Merritt has been sent to the shipyard for repairs. The vessel’s bottom is thin in spots and will be reinforced with additional plate, he said. The repairs should take about 10 days, and the dredge will then be ready to work in Hatteras Inlet as soon as the agreement is signed and a survey is done. 

Other longstanding issues in Hatteras Inlet, meanwhile, stand by unresolved. There has to be a new place to dispose of dredge spoil. The former “short” ferry channel is impassable. The tip of Hatteras Island is eroding rapidly. And the mouth of the harbor is clogged.

“That shoaling is not leaving town,” Ernie Foster, a Hatteras charter captain and commission member said of the harbor. 

Foster and others also noted the persistent low tide in the inlet that has added a new, albeit temporary, challenge to navigation.

“It’s just an unusual phenomenon to see it this low for this long,” he said.

The next meeting of the Dare County Waterways Commission will be held in Buxton on April 10.


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2.15.2017- Updates on Upcoming Inlet Dredging Presented at Waterways Commission Meeting



            
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