The Dare County Waterways Commission tackled a long list of Outer Banks projects at their August 13 meeting in Buxton, which included updates on Rodanthe Harbor, and the impending fall dredging at Hatteras Inlet.
The Rodanthe Harbor, which serves as the launching point for the Rodanthe / Stumpy Point Emergency Ferry, was successfully dredged in late July by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The multi-purpose vessel, the Snell, tackled the shallow area close to the harbor over the course of 5-6 days, expanding the depths from roughly 4.5 feet to 8.5 feet. Plans are also in the works on the county level to come up with a long-term maintenance plan that will address the common reed overgrowth around the harbor, which could hinder the accessibility and size of the adjacent spoil site.
Several topics pertaining to Hatteras Inlet were discussed in depth, starting with the need to move buoys in the South Ferry Channel. “This is a high priority,” said Chairman David May.
In addition, the commissioners discussed the steps that needed to be taken in order to start dredging the South Ferry Channel, (or Connecting Channel), on September 1, which would be a month outside the permitted window of October 1 through March 31. Outside of this window, approval is required from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, the Division of Coastal Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to receive permission to dredge outside the permitted season.
“If things are in place, can we move the start date to September 1?” asked Commissioner Steve “Creature” Coulter. “My concern is that we’re going to lose all the work that [the corps] has done in the spring.”
Per Joen Petersen of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the tentative answer was yes, but there were a lot of steps required to move forward. “The [hopper dredge] Currituck is in Dare County for the month of September, so if permits were in place, we could likely get the hopper there,” said Petersen.
Waterways Commissioner member and Dare County Board of Commissioners member Danny Couch reported that he would check with the country manager on the next steps. “We need to start to firm up a plan and take it day by day, and determine what our priorities are,” he said.
Jim Medlock, Corps of Engineers Civil Works Project Manager, also gave an update on the tasks the corps is currently undertaking to address the Rollinson Channel leading to Hatteras Harbor. Medlock noted that there were roughly 5-6 sites in North Carolina with similar issues, and the corps was looking into grouping these sites to create one environmental assessment for future dredging – a process which could take roughly a year.
In the meantime, emergency dredging in Rollinson Channel connected to Hurricane Matthew is slated to begin in the early fall, though there is not an exact start date. “We haven’t gotten a response from the contractor yet on when they’ll be there, and what they can do, but we did ask them to put the Breakwater first as their top priority,” said Medlock, noting that if available, the contractor could start as early as September 1. “We anticipate having an answer [on the timeframe] by the end of the month.”
A trio of Avon village property owners also addressed the Waterways Commission, asking for guidance on what to do about erosion on properties that border the northern side of the Avon Harbor. Per the owners as well as accompanying satellite images, material from these northern properties have eroded and drifted into the harbor, creating a spit as well as shallower depths in the harbor itself. Todd Horton, the Corps’ Deputy Chief of Navigation, noted that the Avon Harbor hadn’t been dredged in at least 30 years, and it was also determined that if the primary purpose of the project was for allowing shallow draft navigation through the channel, and not sand mitigation, it could be eligible for state funds.
The cost for such a project was also discussed, with commission members and Corps representatives noting that the area could be addressed with smaller equipment – namely an excavator – for a fraction of the price of a larger dredging project. Joen Petersen noted that a similar undertaking which moved roughly 13,000 cubic yards worth of material 150 yards cost around $50,000. Still, obtaining funds for such a project remained a question.
“The historic and heritage [background] is there, and if this could be reestablished as a recreation spot, there’s some opportunity there,” said Couch. “If you could come together as a group, you could have a good thing going here.”
Two special guests were also in attendance at Monday night’s meeting: Capt. Bion Stewart, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina, and Tess Judge, NC House District 6 Candidate.
“It’s good to be in this environment to see how the work we do affects these local neighborhoods,” said Capt. Stewart. “[There is a] great relationship with this commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Corps, and I have never seen the amount of cooperation I’ve seen in North Carolina, and especially here on the Outer Banks.”
Commission members Dave May, (Chairman), Danny Couch, Steve “Creature” Coulter, Steve “Creature” Coulter, Fletcher Willey, and Natalie Kavanagh were in attendance for the August 13 meeting. The next meeting of the Dare County Waterways Commission is at 7:00 p.m. Monday, September 10, in Manteo.