BY CATHERINE KOZAK
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
It’s getting down to the wire for a dredging project in Hatteras Inlet to be started and completed by month’s end, but members of the Dare County Waterways Commission are keeping their fingers crossed that weather will be more cooperative by the weekend.
Joen Petersen, chief of plants for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told commissioners at Monday’s meeting in Manteo that the hopper dredge Currituck is scheduled to start work on Saturday at the South Ferry Channel – alternately known as the Connecting Channel, the South Connector Channel and the Ocracoke State Channel – but he will first need to dig a trench to access it “unless we get help from Mother Nature.”
The idea, Petersen explained, is for the dredge to scoop some material from the west edge of channel, back and forth, little by little, and pile it to the side of the area. In that way, he said, the dredge will create an entrance into the channel so it can start dredging. The sand pile will be removed by the dredge during the course of the project.
A survey of the near shore area would be necessary before dredging could start, he said, “to make sure we can dump there.”
Petersen said that the Currituck is expected to depart from Carolina Beach on Thursday. Once in Hatteras, the plan is to clear 2,000 feet of the channel, with a target of 8 feet deep and 100 feet wide.
But unless a permit extension is granted, the project must be completed by March 31, a nerve-wracking deadline in the wake of delays caused by a recent nor’easters.
“We have a night crew on standby,” Petersen said. “If we can get across the bar without killing ourselves, we can work 24-hours a day.”
Wally Overman, Vice-Chair of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, expressed frustration that the condition of the inlet bar – which is not a federal channel – could potentially hinder access to the Corps’ permitted work in the South Ferry Channel. He added that he would address overall permitting issues with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr at a meeting planned this week.
Overman has served as a liaison between the commission and the board, most importantly about an agreement secured last year between the state, the Corps and the county that provided authorization and funding to the Corps for South Ferry Channel project.
From that perspective, he said he had his concerns about the looming deadline, which is required by protected species rules.
“The last I heard is, let’s say, they’re not excited about extending it,” Overman said about the permitting agency.
To member Ernie Foster, a Hatteras charter boat captain, it makes no sense for such a dynamic area of the inlet, with a powerful ebb tide but “zero” submerged aquatic vegetation to protect, to be subject to such a precise deadline.
“We have people saying that if we dredge a week into April, that will somehow change the Earth’s environment,” he said. “It’s discouraging to know that that’s what we’re going to run into.”
Steve Shriver, Corps team leader in the survey section, said in a later interview that, with the weather report so far, he is optimistic that the survey can be completed in time for the Currituck to start work on Saturday.
But weather delays have forced the contractor, because of those same time restrictions, to move back Hurricane Matthew emergency dredging in Rollinson Channel until October, Petersen said, prompting concern about troublesome shoaling at the mouth of Hatteras Harbor that is part of that project.
“The lump is halfway across the breakwater where the boats need to get out,” Steve “Creature” Coulter said.
Petersen said he will ask what the Corps may be able to do to address the situation as soon as possible.
Members Dan Oden, Danny Couch and Fletcher Willey and Chairman David May also attended the meeting. Former member Ronald Lowe has submitted his resignation and did not attend. Pending approval by the Dare County Board of Commissioners, Natalie Kavanaugh from Frisco has agreed to fill his slot. It was also Commission administrator Jenny Gray Jones’ last meeting. Jones is retiring after serving the county for 24 years.
Sara Schweitzer, wildlife diversity biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, was also on hand to deliver some good news to the commission: reconstruction of DOT Island, the so-called bird island once used for disposal of dredge material, is close to final approval.
The proposal is currently being reviewed by the state Division of Coastal Management, which is likely to make a decision this month, she told commissioners.
The island, situated halfway between Ocracoke and Hatteras islands at the back of the Inlet Gorge, would be permitted to a maximum size of 20 acres and 15 feet high.
“So you’ll have quite a bit of area for material there,” Schweitzer said.
The sand, she said, will have to be placed in the shallow water area and avoid about five acres of marsh.
Cora June, a dredge material island near Rollinson Channel, is nearly at capacity, Schweitzer said. But it still has some area available for disposal.
“They can build some height right now,” she said. “It will be a usable island.”