May is upon us, and the regular Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferries still are not running because of an inadequate ferry channel.
“It’s a mess,” noted Allen Burrus, a Dare County commissioner who has been actively working on the ferry channel problems.
Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association and a former ferry captain, echoed Burrus’ assessment.
“I can’t believe it’s turned out like this,” Austin continued. “The Army Corps of Engineers needs to get something in there to correct this—yesterday. We had the understanding that we’d have a proper channel when (the dredging) was done.”
Shoaling in Rollinson channel in Hatteras Inlet was a problem after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and again became an issue after Hurricane Sandy and several northeasters last fall.
The pipeline dredge hired by the Corps, whose jurisdiction the channel is under, has left after finishing its work several days ago.
Steve Abbott, North Carolina Department of Transporation’s Ferry Division spokesman in Raleigh, said on April 24 that the dredge was finished, but high winds for several days prevented the Coast Guard from reinstalling channel markers.
On Monday, the Ferry Division noted that there still are several sections of concern in the channel, said Jed Dixon, deputy ferry division director.
“There is a large section of where it’s very narrow where two ferries can’t pass,” he said. “We had our most seasoned captains run this and it’s just not safe.”
It is important for the channel to be wide enough for two ferries since ferries from both ends of the route operate simultaneously and pass in different sections of the channel.
The 12B section of the channel is of particular concern, Dixon explained.
“Twelve B had been dredged and already it has showed some shoaling,” he said. “This area is very dynamic and very tough to keep dredged.”
In addition, when you throw all the commercial, charter, and private boats into the mix, the potential for danger increases, he said.
Dixon said the Corps was in meetings all day Monday about the situation, but that he doesn’t know what their plan is.
“The Army Corps and Coast Guard are trying to figure out a way forward,” Dixon said. “We know the folks in Ocracoke are upset and they have a lot of stuff on their plate, but we can’t risk putting a boat out and running aground.”
That is what happened on Saturday when the Ferry Division conducted sea trials in the Rollinson Channel route.
In September, Dixon said the dredge operation was being funded with $1.9 million in contributions from state and federal agencies. The dredge Richmond arrived in Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor early in September and began maintenance dredging Sept. 7.
Early in December, it went to Hatteras to dredge the Rollinson Channel, which is the main ferry route between Ocracoke and Hatteras.
In the meantime, an alternate route through Barney Slough, which has been in operation since Feb. 22, is still being used. That route, farther west into the Pamlico Sound, takes about one hour, compared to about 40 minutes in the main ferry channel.
“It’s a good, natural channel, but the longer route has impacted our schedule,” Dixon said. “Our ultimate concern is the safety of the public.”
The shorter ferry schedules will be critical for Ocracoke as the summer fast approaches.
“We just have to have that shorter route to keep up with traffic,” Austin said.
That summer traffic to Ocracoke often stacks up in all of the ferry holding lanes at the Hatteras dock and has been known to extend down the road into Hatteras village.
“A lot of people are just hanging on here with their businesses,” Austin said. “They’ve got to get that dredge here.”
HATTERAS-OCRACOKE FERRY SCHEDULE
Hatteras Departure Times Ocracoke Departure Times
5 a.m. 4:30 a.m.
6 a.m. 6:30 a.m.
7 a.m. 7:30 a.m.
8 a.m. 8:30 a.m.
9 a.m. 9:30 a.m.
10 a.m. 10:30 a.m.
11 a.m. 11:30 a.m.
12 p.m. 12:30 p.m.
1 p.m. 1:30 p.m.
2 p.m. 2:30 p.m.
3 p.m. 3:30 p.m.
4 p.m. 4:30 p.m.
5 p.m. 5:30 p.m.
6 p.m. 6:30 p.m.
8 p.m. 7:30 p.m.
9 p.m. 9:30 p.m.
11 p.m 11:30 p.m.
12 a.m. 12:30 a.m.
For additional information, travelers can contact the departure terminals. The phone numbers are:
Ocracoke – (252) 928-1665
Hatteras – (252) 986-2353