Thwarted for months by a series of snags, including the shutdown caused by COVID-19, dredging of the clogged South Ferry Channel could start as soon as week’s end, members of the Dare County Waterways Commission learned at its first-ever Google Meet held Monday evening.
“We’re all learning,” Chairman Steve “Creature” Coulter said in a later telephone interview about the online meeting, “and hopefully we won’t have to do that much longer.”
Coulter said that as far as he could tell, 36 people were listening in, including all members of the commission.
The most interesting part of the discussion, he said, was the news about the state dredge Manteo being expected to arrive this week at Hatteras Inlet, where it will begin pumping out the shoaled area on the west end of South Ferry Channel.
The state Department of Transportation agreed to use its pipeline dredge to do the work at no expense to the county. In exchange, NCDOT will have the sand it needs to rebuild the dunes on the north end of Ocracoke Island.
“We’re very grateful for them doing this,” Coulter said.
The shoaled area in the channel was supposed to have been dredged back in October by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ side caster dredge, Merritt. But a snafu with the permit held it up, and then other issues prolonged the delay. The plan for the state dredge being used instead was proposed as a way to kill two birds with one stone.
“Hopefully, the sand they move in the first three days or so will give us enough depth that we can ease past,” Coulter said. “They’re getting the sand they need and we’re getting the sand taken from where we need it to be taken from.”
Lance Winslow, environmental engineer with the state Ferry Division, said in an interview Tuesday that about 70,000 cubic yards of sand can be expected to be pumped to the approved National Park Service spoil site off the ferry terminal’s South Dock. The material will be used to rebuild about a half-mile of dune that was lost in Hurricane Dorian on the north end of Ocracoke.
Winslow said the work is expected to be completed by June 15, barring bad weather. The project cost is covered by federal highway funds and will not cost anything for Dare County, he said.
Another plus is that the 150-foot wide, 12-foot deep scope of work is considerably more than usual. The Merritt, Winslow said, would have done “probably half of that.”
Brent Johnson, project manager for Dare County Grants and Waterways, told commissioners in March that using the state dredge would save $400,000 and be more environmentally suitable for the water column.
With the Outer Banks opening up to visitors this weekend, coinciding with the height of the spring fishing season, Coulter is anticipating more activity in Hatteras and more happy people fishing.
“I’d say starting on Saturday, we’ll have 20 to 30 boats every day,” he said. “The fishing has been excellent.”
When the governor closed the state in March to control the spread of COVID-19, Coulter said that there were a number of charter trip cancelled or rescheduled, although fishing was still permitted. The Hatteras Village Offshore Open scheduled for mid-May, the season’s first big tournament, had to be cancelled.
But the popular Big Rock tournament in mid-June is still on, he said, albeit with limited social interaction and with the weigh-ins done virtually. Although the tournament is based in Morehead City, quite a lot of participants fish out of Hatteras, he added.
“We’re looking forward,” Coulter said, “to getting back to a somewhat normal routine taking people into the ocean and catching fish.”