Dredging operations got under way this morning in the Hatteras ferry channel to clear a 10-to-12-foot depth along the route between the ferry facilities on Hatteras and Ocracoke, with the goal of clearing the way for the ferry route to return to its original path in a few weeks.
Shoaling in the channel has been a problem, especially since hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the string of northeasters that followed Sandy last fall and winter.
An overnight storm on Jan. 18 made the route too shallow for ferries to travel safely, and an alternate route between Hatteras and Ocracoke has been in use since February.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the dredging operation, got environmental clearance on Thursday to begin work, and the Dredge Merritt arrived in Hatteras Thursday evening.
While the Merritt moves sand off to the side to clear a channel, the Murden actually hauls sand away from the area and dumps it in another location.
The Wilmington District of the Army Corps obtained an “Emergency Declaration” from its division headquarters to use the Merritt to operate in the ferry channel to prepare it for further dredging by the District’s newest vessel, the split-hull, shallow-draft vessel, Murden.
With the emergency declaration, the Wilmington District also coordinated with federal and state environmental review agencies who, in recognition of the severe shoaling issues, concurred with the emergency dredging operations.
The Merrit will work 12-hour days to establish a pilot channel for the Murden, which will remove material from the ferry channel and transport it to the Ocracoke near-shore surf zone.
Erosion on the northern end of Ocracoke has been severe in this winter’s northeasters.
The District has estimated the Merritt will need a minimum of four days to effectively work the dredge cut. The Murden will arrive on June 4 and will work in Hatteras until on or about June 9 when it reports to the shipyard in Wilmington.
The authorized channel dimensions are 100-feet wide and 10-feet deep. The Merritt will work to a depth of about 7-8-feet which will give access to the Murden to clear to project depth.
Considerable dredging was done by the Army Corps from December until April, but tests conducted in late April showed that in three areas of the Hatteras Inlet, sand had already started to shift back to the areas dredged several weeks earlier. That made those areas unsafe for travel by ferry vessels, which need at least 9 feet of water depth to operate.
To handle the increased passenger traffic going into the summer, the Ferry Division had moved the Hatteras-Ocracoke route to its summer schedule on May 7. And an additional six trips in each direction were added on May 21.
For more information about the Hatteras ferry route, travelers can sign-up to receive messages on Twitter by going to www.twitter.com/ncdot_ferry or visit the N.C. 12 Facebook page.