As the fishing tournament season kicked off this week in Hatteras, members of the Dare County Waterways Commission were relieved that conditions in Hatteras Inlet are finally in good shape.
“We’ve got the best channel we’ve had in four or five years,” Commissioner Steve “Creature” Coulter, a Hatteras charter boat captain, said at Monday’s meeting in Manteo. “It’s marked. It’s deep.”
Different dredging projects at different areas in the inlet that were completed this past fall and winter seem to have resolved the major navigational issues created by stubborn shoaling.
Commissioner Ernie Foster, also a charter boat captain, sounded almost weary in his agreement, hinting at the panel’s persistent struggles to find funding and to obtain permits for necessary work.
“It’s been five years and we finally have a reasonable channel,” Foster said.
The Hatteras Village Offshore Open – the first of numerous fishing tournaments planned for the season – started on Wednesday, and there were plenty of boats coming in and out of the harbor, said Timothy Midgett, manager of Hatteras Landing Marina.
“Yes, the inlet has been very good as of lately,” he said. “They’re just having a [much] easier time than in years past.”
Midgett said that of the more than 40 boats using the inlet, more than 20 or so were participating in the tournament. But he said it’s going to take more than one season of good water to restore Hatteras’ great name to out-of-town fishermen.
“We’ve had a bad reputation because of the inlet,” he said. “They’re not probably coming back until they hear it’s good for a period of time.”
But to its credit, the Waterways Commission is also in better shape now to address problems in Hatteras Inlet. Before it was reorganized a few years ago, the commission primarily focused on Oregon Inlet, and already was behind the eight ball when it was able to start addressing the drastic increases in shoaling in Hatteras Inlet that started after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Eventually, an agreement was made that the county’s Oregon Inlet Task Force deal with most of that inlet’s issues, and that the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission deal with Hatteras Inlet and other waterways in the county. In August 2016, the commission was renamed the Dare County Waterways Commission.
It took years for the commission to unravel a number of frustrating jurisdictional conflicts that made it difficult to get the inlet dredged. At times, some sections of navigational channels had as little as two feet of water.
“There’s been a lot going on,” then-member Allen Burrus said in 2015, “and there’s been nothing going on.”
Even though there has since been significant progress, the current commission is working to stay on top of the inevitable shoaling. The Army Corps of Engineers will return in September to do maintenance dredging of Rollinson Channel.
Todd Horton, the Corps’ Deputy Chief of Navigation, said the project will include dredging the Breakwater, an area at the mouth of Hatteras Harbor that has worried the commission for many months.
Horton also said that an area in Rodanthe Harbor at the entrance to the 1.7-mile emergency ferry channel is scheduled for dredging in August.
But Foster said the channel needs to be worked on before the hurricane season, which officially begins June 1.
“That needs to be taken care of,” he told Horton. “If we need to use the ferries, we’re not going to be able to use the ferries.”
In a later telephone interview, Horton explained that the August date was put on the calendar as a placeholder. But a new survey of the area is now on hand, and he said he expects that discussions will be held with the state Ferry Division to reschedule the work.
The survey showed about 100 feet of shoaling, with about 5 feet of water. The remainder of the channel is 6 feet deep.
For a change, nearly all of the meeting was not discussing Hatteras Inlet. Instead, much of Monday’s meeting was focused on a shoaled channel into Manteo Harbor that is keeping the 16th-century representative sailing ship Elizabeth II from getting much-needed maintenance.