October 10, 2018

Waterways Commission Aims to
Speed up Hatteras Inlet Dredging


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 Petersen.

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 closed.

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 in Manteo.

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