Noting that the permitted dredging window of
October 1 through March 31 is officially open, the Dare County
Waterways Commission took steps to speed up maintenance dredging of the
South Ferry Channel at their October 9 meeting in Buxton.
“We’ve been waiting for the environmental window to open up, and I think we’re there,” said Commissioner Chair David May.
Per Joen Petersen of the U.S. Corps of Engineers,
once the official request form Dare County is made, the Corps can be
available for dredging approximately 30 days later. “We can’t do
anything until the County Manager says to go ahead and do it,” said
There were some concerns that the county would
wait on obtaining possible funds from FEMA before scheduling the
dredging, which would delay the process for an undetermined amount of
time. Waterways and Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch said he would
talk to the County Manager Bobby Outten and County Commissioner Chair,
Bob Woodard, about looking into requesting the dredging first, and then
examining the possibility of requesting reimbursement from FEMA later,
instead of waiting to have potential funds in hand before proceeding.
To hopefully speed up the process, the Waterways
Commission unanimously passed a motion to officially request that the
county proceed with maintenance dredging at the South Ferry Channel.
Meanwhile, Waterway Commissioners noted that
while there were exceptions, the inlet was mostly navigable after
Hurricane Florence blew through the area. “The short cut has pretty
much held all summer long, and we marked [the route] with poly balls,”
said Commissioner Steve “Creature” Coulter, although he noted in a
later interview that the short cut is the lone route available, as the
only federally marked channel – the South Ferry Channel – has been
A second motion unanimously passed by the
Waterways Commission dealt with the specific roll of a new dredge which
is on the horizon.
Thanks to $15 million from the state Shallow
Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund, Dare County is
contracting with a private developer to design, build, operate,
maintain, and own an ocean-certified hopper dredge.
Originally, the privately owned dredge was being
purchased to continually target both Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet.
However, concerns were raised that the plans have since shifted, and
the dredge would only be used in Oregon Inlet.
“The original sales pitch was always for the
dredge to help both Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet,” said Commissioner
Couch. “We need to know that this is still [the case.]”
To address these concerns, the Waterways
Commission unanimously voted for someone from the Oregon Inlet Task
Force, (which will be managing the dredge operations), to give an
update on the dredge purchase and uses at the next Waterways Commission
meeting in November.
The Waterways Commission also tackled some
potentially problematic language in a new permit requested and obtained
by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to use DOT Island
as a spoil area for dredging projects.
The request was made in order to provide relief
from using Cora June Island, a bird island located near the Hatteras
docks, which is at the limits of its disposal capacity. Earlier in
2018, the Wildlife Resources Commission worked to approve
reconstruction of the so-called DOT Island, a dredge island near
Hatteras that used to be five times its current size.
With the permit now in hand, new dredge material
could placed up to 25 acres, but the permit includes the language “one
time beneficial placement,” which caused concern that this verbiage
meant that the island could be used for one round of dredging only.
“The definition of these spoil islands is not a
new concept, and if this is the case, I’m stunned that there is a lack
of clarity,” said Commissioner Ernie Foster, noting that the spoil
island in question had existed for roughly 60 years. “That island has
been a spoil island for decades. These are not new unknowns.”
Roger Bullock and Joen Petersen of the U.S. Corps
of Engineers reviewed the exact language, and told the commission that
it was fairly typical for a permit.
“It’s a matter of coordinating each time you dredge,” said Bullock. “The hard work is done.”
“The bottom line is that I think you’re OK,” added Petersen.
The Waterways Commission also revisited the
potential dredging of Avon Harbor, which first became a topic of
conversation at their August meeting.
At that meeting, a trio of Avon village property
owners addressed the Waterways Commission, asking for guidance on what
to do about erosion on properties that border the northern side of the
Avon Harbor. Per the owners, material from these northern properties
have eroded and drifted into the harbor, creating a spit as well as
shallower depths in the harbor itself.
“The historic and heritage [background] is there,
and if this could be reestablished as a recreation spot, there’s some
opportunity there,” said Couch at the August meeting. “If you could
come together as a group, you could have a good thing going here.”
Since August, a survey had been done of the area,
and the property owners created an organization – the Avon Harbor
Preservation Society – to move forward on requesting grants and / or
funds. Representative Jack Bennett also noted that they had talked to a
local dredging company, which said that an excavator could be used as
opposed to a dredge to clear the harbor, which would make it a much
less expensive project.
The commission noted that they would talk to the
county about becoming a sponsor for an ensuing dredging project, as a
county sponsor would be required to request state funds for dredging
the Avon Harbor.
“We’re fully supportive, but we want to make sure
that we do it right,” said Commission Chair May, noting that the county
attorney could be enlisted to ensure the language for subsequent
requests was clear and property worded.
During the meeting, the commission also outlined
their recurring problems with dredging with attendee Trey Lewis, a
representative of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis.
Commission members Dave May, (Chairman), Danny
Couch, Steve “Creature” Coulter, Dan Oden, Ernie Foster, and Natalie
Kavanagh were in attendance for the October 9 meeting. The next meeting
of the Dare County Waterways Commission is at 7:00 p.m. on November 12