waterways still clogged as a result of hurricanes Florence and Michael,
and several projects on the horizon, the Dare County Waterways
Commission on Tuesday had a full plate to discuss at its monthly
Mariners have been bumping on shoals in Oregon
Inlet and Sloop Channel in Hatteras Inlet, but the South Ferry Channel
in Hatteras Inlet - with its markers missing and as little as four feet
of water in some sections - is essentially impassable.
An image of the Oct. 25 survey of the channel showed wide swaths of red, the designated color for shallow water.
While charter boats and commercial vessels wait
for the long-awaited dredge project the county has planned, watermen
are bypassing the South Ferry Channel by using the so-called
“shortcut,” an unmarked channel around the shore-side.
But with turtle nesting season ending weeks ago, commission members are getting impatient.
“We’ve waited all summer for this environmental window to be lifted,” said commission Chairman Dave May.
Commissioners Ernie Foster, Natalie Kavanaugh,
Danny Couch and Steve “Creature” Coulter were also in attendance.
Fletcher Willey and Dan Oden were absent,
Under federal law, dredging is not allowed in the summer months when protected sea turtles are nesting.
“The dredge window has been open for two months now,” Coulter said, “and we still haven’t started any work.”
Even the Coast Guard can’t get use its 47-foot
vessels in the channel, or get out to remove buoys that no longer mark
In the post-Florence verification of the 599
markers in waters between the Virginia-North Carolina border to just
south of Ocracoke Island, and west to Edenton along the western end of
the Albemarle Sound, only about 20 markers had to be fixed, Ryan Agre,
Officer in Charge at the Coast Guard Aide to Navigation office in
Wanchese, said in a later interview. Those awry markers were located in
Teach’s Hole in Ocracoke Inlet and in Barney Sloop Channel and South
Ferry Channel in Hatteras Inlet. Of them, the five or six in South
Ferry Channel are the only ones that have not been fixed because
there’s no access, Agre said.
Ann Daisey, commission administrator, told
members that the county has submitted its fund share to the state
Division of Water Resources, which manages the state dredging fund.
Once the total project funds are transferred to
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps will be able to schedule
the work, said Joen Petersen, Chief of Floating Plants for the Corps.
Meanwhile, Coulter and Kavanaugh took staff
members from the office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) out last
Tuesday for “a boat ride” in Hatteras Inlet. With their guided
tour, the hope is that it could help illustrate the complexity of
navigating their vessels around shifting shoals, but also the mire of
government jurisdictions, authorizations and bureaucratic requirements
to maintain the waterway’s channels.
Coulter said he had done a similar tour with staff from the office of U.S. Sen Richard Burr (R-NC) earlier this year.
“Senators were made aware that the Coast Guard
can’t get out of Hatteras Inlet,” he said. “I think everybody’s waiting
to see who’s going to blink first. Well, I think we’ll be out of
business if somebody doesn’t blink first.”
Dredge work in Rollinson Channel, however, is
expected to resume this month, Roger Bullock, Corps Deputy Chief of
Operations, confirmed. That work will include clearing shoals from the
breakwater at the mouth of Hatteras Harbor, a concern for many months
Other waterway projects that are being planned
include a stabilization project on the shoreline by the ferry dock on
the north side of Ocracoke Island, and dredging of Avon Harbor.
Lance Winslow, with the state Ferry Division
marine maintenance unit, told the panel that an engineer has been
studying the eroded shoreline for the past six months, but there has
been no definite decision on what will be built.
“I wouldn’t say a groin . . . but we’re going to come up with something,” Winslow said.
“I wish we could take our sand and pile it up on your shoreline,” Coulter said.
Responded Winslow: “I do, too.”
Progress on plans to dredge Avon Harbor has been delayed by storm damage from Hurricane Michael, said commissioner Danny Couch.
Couch said that storm surge on that part of the
island was severe and left behind a lot of damage – including to the
home of the proposed private dredge contractor.
But Agre, with the Coast Guard, said he was asked
by someone in his district office not to remove the channel marker
known as “Avon 8.”
“’There’s Congressional interest,’” he said,” Agre told commissioners, referring to the district official.
“You’re telling me the U.S. Congress is
interested in Avon 8 ?,” Agre said, recounting the conversation. “He
said, ‘Yeah - don’t discontinue it.’”
Agre explained later that he didn’t ask for any further details, and is unsure what the interest meant.
May also asked for updates on the dredging of
Manteo Harbor, which would benefit the state-owned Elizabeth II, and
reiterated concerns about the proposed state dredge project that will
be administered by the Oregon Inlet Task Force.
Daisey said that despite the fact that the state
has already appropriated the money, it is required that a grant
application be made to secure the funds to dredge the Manteo Channel.
But Bullock said the biggest challenge for that
work will be the disposal of the material because that area is lacking
a suitable disposal site. Even if the material is found to be
compatible to be used to widen the eroded shoreline on the north end of
Roanoke Island, he said, it would be difficult and expensive for the
material to be pumped miles away.
“Three miles is probably do-able,” Bullock said,
adding that booster pumps would be needed. “You start losing
production real fast.”
Commissioners know even less about the progress
on plans for the state dredge, which have so far not been shared with
the Waterways Commission.
An invitation had been extended to the Task Force
to talk about the dredge, but the visit was postponed. Commissioners
agreed to renew the invitation for next month’s meeting.
“I think we’re all scratching our heads about the
state dredge,” May said. “The information we have is that the draft is
going to be deep, and we’re not going to be able to do any dredging in
Coulter said that it’s difficult to figure out
what to believe, since so far the Waterways Commission has been left in
“Until we have somebody come here and explain it,” Coulter said, “it’s all speculation.”
Despite members’ frustration with slow progress
on projects, and numerous concerns about ongoing issues, May made an
effort to keep the tone more upbeat and productive than usual – and at
least one person took note.
“The vigor and enthusiasm I’m seeing from all of
you up there,” Petersen said at the close of the meeting, “has really