After being diverted for emergency dredging in
the Hatteras ferry channel, the dredge Merritt was finally back at work
Thursday morning at the Connecting Channel in Hatteras Inlet.
To the dismay of charter boat captains and
village business owners who had been waiting many anxious months for
dredging to begin, the sidecaster dredge had been pulled away just two
days after it had started dredging on April 22. The vessel had been
sent to clear shoaling at Bigfoot Slough so ferries could get through
As long as the ferry channel remains passable,
the work at the Connecting Channel should be able to continue for the
next three weeks or so.
“It’s great we’re talking about dredging,” Jim
Medlock, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works project manager, said
at Monday’s May 8 meeting of the Dare County Waterways Commission. “We
really have come a long way in a month.”
The Connecting Channel has been difficult to near
impossible to navigate since last year, scaring away recreational
boaters and fishing tournament participants, and resulting in losses of
charter fishing business in the village.
Medlock had helped secure an agreement with Dare
County and the state for the Corps to dredge the Connecting Channel, a
non-federal channel, which was finally signed last month after a slow
crawl between federal, state and county offices that began last August.
A state permit for the 21-day project was
extended until June 15, Medlock said, and the signed Corps permit
extension is expected any day. The agreement provides up to $2 million
from the state through April 2018. So far, he said, the Corps has been
paid $500,000, but that amount includes a cushion beyond the
anticipated cost of the current project.
Joen Petersen, Corps chief of floating plants,
said there is only about 2- to 3-feet of water in sections of the
channel. The Merritt, with a 5-foot draft, has to essentially dredge a
path into the shoal before it can do the actual channel dredging, which
will start on the west end.
Peterson said the channel would be dredged to the
controlling depth of 8 feet and a width of about 100 feet, although the
permit would allow as much as 12 feet and 150 feet, respectively.
“I don’t think that’s a realistic thing at this point,” he said.
But members of the commission were just happy
that work is – at last - underway, and hopes are high that the channel
will be clear in time for fishing tournament season.
“We’re not running there right now,” Steve
“Creature” Coulter, a Hatteras charter boat captain and commission
member, told Peterson. “We’re going to leave you alone and let you have
Another persistent shoaling problem - by the
breakwater at the mouth of Hatteras Harbor - also may be able to be
addressed in the near future. Over the last few months,
increasing alarm about the situation has been expressed by several
“It is getting worse,” commissioner Ernie Foster,
a Hatteras charter captain said on Monday. “We can sit here and say we
need to do something, but unless we actually do something, that harbor
will be closed in two years.”
After some back and forth discussion, it appeared
that the solution could be found in another Corps project planned in
As Medlock reviewed details of four interior
channel dredge projects that Corps is planning to do this winter at
Shallowbag Bay (Oregon Inlet), Silver Lake Harbor in Ocracoke, Atlantic
Harbor (Carteret County); and Rollinson Channel, the question was
raised whether the breakwater at Hatteras Harbor could be included in
the Rollinson Channel project.
“That’s where our 1,500-foot channel would begin,” Medlock responded. .
In a later telephone interview, Medlock said
“that’s something we’re going to be looking at as part of the Rollinson
The projects, or at least portions of them, will
be grouped under one contract, Medlock told commissioners, which would
be offered for bid from small business contractors in August. Funds
would be secured from the federal budget that was recently passed, he
said, with costs estimated at $5 million to $10 million.
Medlock said that potentially there could be additional funds that become available from the shallow draft navigation program.
But for the time being, most of the focus will remain on getting the Connecting Channel dredged before summer.
Danny Couch, a Waterways Commission member who
also represents Hatteras Island on the Dare County Board of
Commissioners, said everyone will breathe easier once the Merritt
finishes the job next month.
“Hopefully,” he said, “the moon and stars will line up and this will be a happy day in June.”
The next meeting of the Dare County Waterways
Commission is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m on June 12 at the Fessenden
Center in Buxton.