The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ sidecaster dredge Merritt arrived in Hatteras Inlet and began the long awaited dredging of the Connecting Channel for several days before it was redirected to address an emergency situation near Ocracoke Inlet.
The Merritt arrived at Hatteras Inlet in late April, and was able to dredge from Saturday April 22 until Monday April 24, when it had to be diverted to address an emergency dredging need at Big Foot Slough, which is close to the entrance to Ocracoke Harbor.
A few weeks ago, a Sound Class ferry had run aground in the Big Foot Slough region, and the area was progressively getting worse, making it more and more difficult for the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferry routes to Ocracoke Island to continue.
“For about a week, we weren’t able to run the Sea Level at all, which is our biggest boat,” says Tim Hass, NCDOT Public Relations Officer (Ferry & Div. 1) “It was getting to the point that the other [ferry] boats would not be able to run through the area either, so we asked for emergency dredging.”
“If the tide was low, or the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, the entrance to Ocracoke [was compromised] and that affected all sound ferries,” he adds.
Before the emergency dredging occurred, the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries had to adjust to a two-round-trips per day schedule, as opposed to the three-round-trips per day wintertime schedule, because of the Sea Level’s absence. Now, after a few days of dredging, the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferry schedule is back on track, and the two routes will add additional crossings during the day starting May 23rd when the summer schedule goes into effect.
Now that the immediate shoaling off of Ocracoke has been addressed, the Merritt can return to its work at Hatteras Inlet, per Hass.
“The Merritt got us to the point in Ocracoke where it wasn’t critical any more to dredge,” says Hass. “Now, they’re going to Hatteras Inlet, and then they will come back and get the Ocracoke dredging [completely] done for now.”
Currently, the Merritt is permitted to dredge the Hatteras Inlet until May 15, due to an extension that was granted after the March 31 date passed. Dredging the Connecting Channel in Hatteras Inlet is allowed from October 1 through March 31, but after this timeframe, an extension is required from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), CAMA and the Corps of Engineers to receive permission to dredge outside the permitted season.
A further extension that will allow dredging until mid-June has also been applied for by the county, just in case weather or other unforeseen factors delay the process further.
“The county has applied for extensions in order to give us more time, and they asked for an extension until the 15th of June,” says Steve “Creature” Coulter, a local Hatteras captain and board member of the Dare County Waterways Commission.
Hopefully, the extension will not be required, the weather will cooperate, and both Hatteras and Ocracoke Inlets’ work will be completed soon. “We eagerly await their return,” says Coulter.