After numerous obstacles and setbacks, the pieces are coming together for the emergency ferry channel between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point to be dredged during the first part of August.
The ferry channel provides emergency transportation in the event of N.C. Highway 12 road closures north of Rodanthe, and is a lifeline for island residents in the wake of hurricanes and coastal storms.
At the July 15 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC), County Manager Bobby Outten outlined the problems with the ferry channel, as well as the steps required to move forward with a scheduled dredging project.
“In the spring before every hurricane season, we get with the Ferry Division and say ‘run the channel and tell us what’s going on so we know that it’s open, and know that it will work,’” said Outten at the BOC meeting. “They did that this spring, and found that it needed some dredging to get to proper depths so they could operate the ferries, should we have a storm that takes out the road later this year….”
“We’ve been working with [NCDOT] and the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] since spring to make it happen, and frankly, we’ve run into problem after problem after problem.”
A survey conducted in the spring of 2019 found some sections of channel with just 4 to 6-foot of water. The ferries, which draw 5.5 feet, need a minimum of 6 feet of water to use the channel.
Since the spring, there have been three primary obstacles that have prevented the dredging project from moving forward.
The spoil site next to the Rodanthe Harbor where dredge material is deposited needed to be cleared, the multi-purpose dredge that the corps uses for the project, the Snell, was unavailable, and the estimated $300,000-$400,000 funds for the project needed to be secured.
Outten said in a phone interview on July 23 that contractors are working on the spoil site to have it cleared and ready before the dredging project begins in August. In addition, the corps reported that they could borrow a similar dredge located in Norfolk by the projected early August start date.
The last obstacle – money for the project – was addressed at the July 15 BOC meeting.
It was originally hoped that the cost for the dredging would be shared between the corps, the state, and the county. However, Outten reported at the BOC meeting that there were issues with getting the state and federal governments to pitch in, as both entities stated that they did not have extra funds for the project.
As a result, Outten requested at the BOC meeting that $324,000 in county funds be redirected in order to pay for the upcoming dredging project.
“We have $1.9 million dollars left over in the Oregon Inlet account that we did not spend last year,”
he said. “About $600,000 of that is our money, and the [remaining] balance of that is the state MOA money. So what we’re proposing is to take $324,000 out of that dredge account [and move it to] the Rodanthe account for the corps to do that work.”
“It’s an emergency ferry channel and something we’re trying to be proactive about,” said Commissioner Steve House at the meeting. “I think this is something we definitely need to do to be proactive during the hurricane season, and to protect our citizens on Hatteras Island. I move to approve.”
Commissioner Tobin also spoke on the lack of financial support from state and federal agencies, stating that “I think it’s appalling that no one has taken responsibility for this.”
The motion to move the funds was unanimously approved, clearing the way for the dredging at the emergency ferry channel to be completed before the height of hurricane season.
“We are still on track to have dredging done by the first part of August,” said Outten in a later interview. “This is all subject to the corps vessel being available, which could change.”