Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Bob Woodard summarized the highlights of 2021 and outlined what’s to come in the year ahead in the annual “State of the County” presentation on Wednesday, January 19.
Held virtually for the second year in a row, Woodard began by providing an overview of the county’s accomplishments over the past year before digging into the upcoming projects that are planned for 2022.
The highlights of 2021 included the following Dare County statistics and initiatives:
- Dare County’s total visitor spending was $1.4 billion, which ranks Dare County as the fourth largest tourist destination in the state of North Carolina.
- Outer Banks rental companies were also incredibly busy last year, and experienced occupancy rates near 100%. Because of these high occupancy rates, the Dare County occupancy tax saw an increase of over 50% for the fiscal year, for the second year in a row.
- Dare County also boasted a high rate of vaccinations in 2021. 71% of the county’s population is now fully vaccinated.
- Dare County hosted a total of 52 vaccine clinics, fully vaccinating a total of 25,039 people.
- In March, the county officially completed the construction of the new Dare County Animal Shelter. “This facility is a massive improvement over the one on Driftwood Drive,” said Woodard.
- Construction of the $18 million academic building for the College of the Albemarle, (which has been underway since 2020), is now 91% complete, and the building is expected to be in use for the fall 2022 semester.
- Dare County also completed the construction of the two-lane boat ramp in Rodanthe in 2021, via a partnership with the Wildlife Resources Commission. After several months of construction, a two-lane boat dock was built on the site with parking for approximately 14 to 16 vehicles, including boat trailers.
- In December, Dare County earned an improved insurance classification rating from the National Flood Insurance Program. “We went from a Class 7 to a Class 6,” said Woodard. “That means that owners in unincorporated areas of Dare will save 20% on their flood insurance premium on or after August 1 of this year.”
- In early 2021, Dare County and National Park Service Superintendent David Hallac worked together to establish the N.C. 12 Task Force. The task force brings together representatives from many different organizations that are stakeholders in the future of Hatteras and Ocracoke Island’s only highway, including the National Park Service, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Southern Environment Law Center, the Coastal Studies Institute, the Army Corps of Engineer, the Division of Marine Fisheries, and many others.
“The primary mission of this task force is to complete a long-term plan for N.C. 12 and the highway’s vulnerable locations, meaning hotspots,” said Woodard, noting that there are an estimated eight hotspots along the highway, which are flooded on a regular basis during storms.
While the milestones of 2021 were a big component of the presentation, the majority of this year’s “State of the County” focused on the months ahead, and Chairman Woodard touched on the progress of several projects that are expected to be completed in 2022.
These projects that affect Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands include the following:
Jug Handle Bridge
The NCDOT is close to completing the Jug Handle Bridge, which is expected to open in late February or March of 2022.
Woodard confirmed during the presentation that a public celebration is expected for the community, once an opening date has been announced. “The grand opening will include an opportunity, just like the Marc Basnight Bridge, for our folks to cross the bridge to celebrate the completion.”
Miss Katie Dredge
Woodard reported that the Miss Katie Dredge, a new shallow-draft hopper dredge that will be used in the various channels and inlets throughout Dare County, is nearing completion.
Approved in 2019, funding for the project came from a public-private partnership with the state of North Carolina, in which the legislature allocated $15 million from the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund for the purchase of the dredge. The dredge — which has been named “Miss Katie” — is currently under construction in Louisiana, and scheduled to be delivered on April 1, 2022.
“Miss Katie will help keep our local channels open,” said Woodard. “…Many people who live and work along the Outer Banks are reliant upon these waterways. It’s crucial that they are properly dredged to provide safe passage.”
“It will be a game-changer. [This] puts us more in the driver’s seat when it comes to keeping our waterways open, because they are our highway that our local waterman take to work every single day.”
Once it arrives in Dare County, Miss Katie will be managed by the Oregon Inlet Task Force and will be able to operate up to 12 hours a day, weather permitting.
“After it arrives in Dare County and complete some additional sea trials, Miss Katie will get to work starting this summer,” said Woodard.
“Having easy access to Miss Katie will be extraordinarily helpful, but it’s not going to solve all of our problems when it comes to shoaling,” said Woodard. “We will continue to have to work closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that dredging is taking place in the most crucial waterways throughout the county, which is making sure that dredging is being performed as often as possible in Oregon and Hatteras Inlets.”
In 2021, Dare County allocated a total of $250,000 for dredging Hatteras Inlet. “Thanks to additional funds from the state that were added, we had a total of $1 million available, all of which was used to dredge Hatteras Inlet on multiple occasions,” said Woodard.
Woodard also noted the county’s assistance in an endeavor to realign the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel, which has been in the works for months if not years, and is an initiative that has been spearheaded by the Dare County Waterways Commission.
Due to its current alignment, the US Army Corps of Engineers is only permitted to dredge the southern tip of Hatteras Island using federal funding. State and local dollars must be used to dredge the South Ferry Channel in order to successfully create a route to the Hatteras gorge, and permission must be obtained before dredging can be performed outside the official dredging window of October through March.
“The fragmentation of this essential waterway, which also serves as a ferry route from Hatteras village to Ocracoke Island, has been a source of considerable frustration. [Everyone] from commercial and recreational fishermen, to members of the US Coast Guard who are trying to perform life-saving missions, have struggled to get through the inlet and into the open ocean,” said Woodard. “The realignment would ultimately classify the entire channel as federally authorized, so that federal funding and federal dredges could be used to dredge the entire channel.”
Woodard stated that the realignment to expected to be finalized in April.
Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant
The county recently received a $150,000 FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant to update the county’s stormwater master plan.
“This master plan serves as an outline of our stormwater management policies in unincorporated Dare County, and it allows us to evaluate drainage issues, and develop a capital improvement plan to address stormwater issues,” said Woodard. “The grant also provides the funding we need to identify and map the county’s stormwater infrastructure, and to have an engineer develop projects for critical areas throughout the county.”
Once the costs for these projects have been determined, the county will apply for construction grants to complete any associated work. Dare County has recently selected an engineering firm to update the stormwater master plan, which is expected to begin in a few weeks.
N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management Grant
Dare County also received a $30,000 state funding grant to perform risk and vulnerability assessments on Hatteras Island, and to identify and rank the projects that are needed.
“The first step in this process was to develop a questionnaire which was sent out in November, and we received over 1,100 responses. The next step is for engineers to rank the risk,” said Woodard. “Once the process is complete, Dare County will have an opportunity to apply for up to $60,000 that would be used to design a project that would help address some of these issues affecting Hatteras Island.”
Beach Nourishment Projects in Avon and Buxton
Several beach nourishment projects are also slated for the summer of 2022, which includes a new beach nourishment project in Avon, and a maintenance beach nourishment project in Buxton.
“The Avon and Buxton beach nourishment projects will cost approximately $29.8 million,” said Woodard. “Dare County will contribute approximately $21.6 million from the beach nourishment fund, with additional funding provided by local, state, and federal [sources].” The Avon and Buxton beach nourishment projects, (which will cover about 2.5 miles of shoreline in northern Avon and 2.9 miles of shoreline in southern Buxton), are scheduled to begin in May of 2022.
Woodard closed the presentation on a positive note, concluding that despite the challenges of the past year, and particularly the ongoing COVID pandemic, there was a lot to look forward to throughout the county in 2022.
“I’m very excited about the many opportunities we have to look forward to, and the many projects we’ve planned for the coming year,” said Woodard.
“As you can see, the county has been and will continue to be very busy. There are a lot of exciting projects and initiatives to take place. All of this is possible because the county is in a great financial position, which this Board of Commissioners and the county staff have worked very, very hard to attain. In the months ahead, we’ll continue to get through any challenges by coming together as a community.”
The full presentation video is available online, and can be viewed on the Dare County Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/darecounty.