May 16, 2018

Dare Asks State Lawmakers to Fund Purchase of Hopper Dredge

By Sam Walker
The Outer Banks Voice

Dare County is actively pursuing creation of a partnership between the state and a yet-to-be-identified private company to purchase a shallow-draft hopper dredge, with the county paying for its operation in Oregon and Hatteras inlets and other channels.

And while Dare would likely be using it the most, the dredge would be available to help clear other waterways along North Carolina’s coastline.

Dredging has crawled to a near halt as federal funding for smaller inlets and harbors has been repeatedly cut by Congress and the White House for decades.

Dare County and North Carolina have since picked up the slack by paying the Army Corps of Engineers to clean out the channels with their limited fleet.

The effort is being led by County Commissioner Jim Tobin, who said at the May 7 board meeting he has made multiple trips to Raleigh to negotiate with members of the General Assembly on a bill that would allow purchase of the dredge.

However, time is of the essence to get the bill passed this year, as the General Assembly opens its short session on Wednesday, and many inside and outside the state capitol say they expect to adjourn by mid-June.

Under an early draft of legislation in the state Senate, $15 million would be allocated from North Carolina’s Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund for a forgivable loan through Dare County to a private company that would pay for the dredge.

Established by the General Assembly in 2013, the fund gets a percentage of the state’s gasoline tax and a portion of boat registration fees.

A total of $22 million was available for grants statewide as of last October, according to a presentation by the state Division of Water Resources in New Bern.

The bill would require the private company to pay the other $15 million for the dredge out of its pocket, and provide work to Dare County at a significantly lower rate, in exchange for the state’s loan eventually being forgiven.

In a formal resolution passed at the May 7 meeting, commissioners called on the state to increase dredging in Dare County and adjacent waterways, actively pursue the acquiring of additional dredging equipment, and reiterated the county’s commitment to fund dredging projects.

The resolution includes a pledge of $3,250,000, with $3 million already set aside from an occupancy tax allocation for dredging.

“This commitment by Dare County is for five years,” Tobin said. “The (state’s) commitment is for the dredge to be in Dare County for the first ten years.”

Matching money from the state that would bring the total to $10 million for operation of the dredge over a five-year period and would come from the shallow draft channel Fund.

County Manager Bobby Outten said the authorizing legislation, which has been through a number of changes in recent weeks, would have the county enter an agreement with the private contractor that would give the county almost exclusive use of the dredge.

Concerns have arisen that the dredge would only be used to keep Oregon Inlet open, since $9 million of the county and state funds are allocated to those waters, and an early version of the bill specifically mentioned the Oregon Inlet Task Force would be in charge.

“(The company would) own it, they maintain it, they operate it … we don’t have anything to do with that,” Outten told commissioners. “What does happen in the legislation is, (the dredge is) assigned to us.”

Outten said Monday that means the dredge would be available to use anywhere in the county and not just Oregon Inlet.

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