August 10, 2018
Dare Moving Ahead on Inlet Dredge Plan
By CATHERINE KOZAK
COASTAL ONLINE REVIEW
the need for dredging in North Carolina waterways has long ago
surpassed the availability of funds and equipment to dredge, Dare
County, with the help of $15 million provided in the recent state
budget, is about to try something different: Build a dedicated dredge
to maintain its waterways.
The plan would be a private-public partnership where a forgivable loan
would be offered to the owner/operator in exchange for discounts on the
dredging work. The ocean-certified dredge would mostly be used to
maintain Oregon Inlet – a notoriously high-need waterway – and Hatteras
Inlet in Dare County.
Two responses to the county’s requests for proposals,
or RFPs, were submitted before the July 30 deadline to the designated
local partner, Dare County, and a private contractor is expected to be
chosen this month.
“We want to do it quickly,” said Dare County Manager Bobby Outten, who
referred to the proposed project as “a great opportunity for Dare
A provision in North Carolina Senate Bill 99,
added by state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, appropriated the $15 million
from the state Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic
Weed Fund for Dare to contract with a private developer to design
build, operate, maintain and own an ocean-certified hopper dredge. The
contractor would have 10 years, with a possible five-year extension, to
pay off the loan with credits earned by providing discounted rates for
dredging Dare County waterways.
Language in the legislation cited the decline in federal funds for decreased maintenance by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“The resulting deterioration in these channels,” the bill said,
“damages the significant portion of the economy of the state’s coastal
regions that is dependent on the use of navigation channels by
The proposed hopper dredge, estimated to cost $25 million to $30
million and take about two years to build, would service Oregon Inlet,
Hatteras Inlet and their surrounding waterways, and when possible,
other waterways and shallow-draft inlets in North Carolina. Hopper
dredges hold the dredged material, or spoils, and then deposit it at
specific locations. They are capable of withstanding ocean conditions.
The state defines shallow-draft navigation channels as inlets with a
maximum depth of 16 feet, a river entrance to the Atlantic or other
interior coastal waterways, including: the Atlantic Intracoastal
Waterway and its side channels, Beaufort Harbor, Bogue Inlet, Carolina
Beach Inlet, Back Sound to Lookout Back channel, Lockwood Folly River,
Oregon Inlet/Shallowbag Bay, Masonboro Inlet, New River, New Topsail
Inlet, Rodanthe Harbor, Hatteras Inlet, Shallotte River, Silver Lake
Harbor and the connecting waterway between Pamlico Sound and Beaufort
At its June 4 board of commissioners meeting, Dare County delegated
“any and all delegable duties” to the Oregon Inlet Task Force, an
advisory panel established by the commissioners in 2013 to oversee
Oregon Inlet maintenance and navigational issues.
Cook said that it made sense for the state to first target Oregon Inlet
for dredging because of its disproportionate need for annual
maintenance. Of the 3 million cubic yards dredged annually in all the
state’s shallow-draft inlets, he said about 1.5 million is from Oregon
Inlet, which connects Pamlico Sound to the Atlantic between Nags Head
and Hatteras Island.
“We need dependable and safe waterway passages to have a vibrant route
for commerce while protecting our environment,” Cook said in an email
response to questions about the legislation. “Also, once this dredge
starts in Oregon Inlet, that will open up and release the Corps of
Engineers’ dredge assets to operate in other coastal waterways.”
According to dredge data from the 2016 North Carolina Beach and Inlet
Management report, Oregon Inlet/Shallowbag Bay has been dredged 223
times since 1975, with a total of more than 45 million cubic yards
removed. In comparison, Carolina Beach has been dredged 153 times since
1982, with 7 million cubic yards removed, and Morehead City Harbor – a
deep-draft waterway – has been dredged 46 times since 1975, with about
47 million cubic yards removed.
Cook explained that his relationship with the task force goes back to
2013, when the state set up a committee to study acquisition of Oregon
Inlet. The task force, he said, represents a broad range of marine
industries, many of which provided information to him.
“Considering that half of the shallow draft dredging need is one inlet
and the local committee for that inlet (Oregon Inlet Task Force) is
well organized and has been a trusted resource, we wanted to make sure
the local experts had the final say,” Cook wrote. “The economic impact
of Oregon Inlet is very significant and far outweighs the costs
necessary to keep the inlet passable.
A 2014 economic study
by engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol calculated that the inlet is
associated with 4,348 jobs and generates $548.4 million in economic
impact to the state.
Frank Rush, town manager for Emerald Isle in Carteret County, said he
understands the need in Dare County, but he hoped that the dredge will
be available at some future date for his town to utilize.
In general, Rush said that communities on the coast are in the same boat, looking for navigation solutions.
“I think all of us collectively need to be exploring new strategies to get this done,” he said.
With the proposed contract with the private partner, North Carolina
would bear no liability for damages or losses associated with the
dredge. The task force would work with the county to develop criteria
for the dredge and negotiate a memorandum of agreement with the
“private partner,” who would contract with the dredge builder.
According to the RFP, the dredge would maintain a 17-foot-deep channel
in Oregon Inlet, while “maintaining the capacity” to also dredge
Hatteras Inlet and other waterways in the state. The private contractor
would pay all costs for the dredge, and work with the task force in the
scheduling and location of the dredge, with the decisions of the task
In designating the task force to coordinate use of the dredge to ensure
that projects “are completed in an expeditious and timely manner,” the
Dare County Board of Commissioners required monthly reports be
submitted to the board.
The law also says that annual reports must be provided to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
The base of operations and the home port for the dredge will be in Dare
County. Any supplemental dredge projects in the state would be subject
to county approval, based on whether county officials believe the
dredge has the capacity. Those projects would not qualify for
discounted rates, and the fees would not be credited toward repayment
of the forgivable loan.
Jim Tobin, manager of Pirate’s Cove Marina and owner of its ship’s
store, is chairman of the task force and serves as a Dare County
Tobin also nominated himself for a three-member subcommittee dealing
with the dredge issues, along with members Steve House, also a Dare
commissioner, and Harry Schiffmann, according to the June 12 task force
Tobin said that the task force expects to make a recommendation for the
private contractor to the board at its next meeting. He said he could
not discuss the proposals because they included proprietary information.
Despite his connection to the Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo, which
sponsors popular fishing tournaments and has about 200 slips for
charter boats that use Oregon Inlet to go offshore and inshore, Tobin,
a Republican, said he has not heard any concerns about conflicts of
As a task force member for six years, Tobin said he had traveled to
Raleigh numerous times to lobby for help for Oregon Inlet and to talk
with legislators. Although Tobin said he didn’t ask – or even know
ahead of time – about Cook adding the provision for the dredge, he said
it’s a great idea because it will allow Oregon Inlet to be properly
maintained with much more frequent dredging.
Considering that the inlet has a massive volume of sand – 1.2 million
to 1.8 million cubic yards – moving in and out of it every year, there
has nearly always been an issue with shoaling, especially around the
Bonner Bridge navigation channel, and will continue, even with the new
“Right now, there’s a hump right in front of the center span,” he said, “and there’s no dredge in sight.”
Although another advisory committee, the Dare County Waterways
Commission, is charged with oversight of all the county’s waterway
issues, Cook, who supports federal authorization of Hatteras Inlet,
said no member of that commission has come to Raleigh in recent years
But Steve “Creature” Coulter, a Hatteras charter boat captain and a
Waterways Commission member, said that input from the commission had
not been sought, nor had the commission been provided with any
Coulter said he intends to request that a member of the task force attend their meeting “to come and tell us what’s going on.”
“I think the overall project can be a good thing for Dare County and it
can be a good thing for the state,” Coulter said. “I just don’t know
enough about it.”
Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said
that the board will be good stewards of the project and its waterways.
“I can assure you, my board has its hands on this and we’re going to
watch it very carefully,” he said in an interview, “and we’re going to
do what’s right for Dare County.”