The Dare County Waterways Commission discussed two upcoming projects to dredge Avon Harbor and the entrance to Hatteras Harbor at their June 12 monthly meeting, but the path to complete both projects has several challenges.
The Waterways Commission recently requested emergency dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the Hatteras Harbor shoaling, which is beginning to impede vessels that use the harbor on a regular basis. This includes the U.S. Coast Guard, which uses Hatteras Harbor as a safe haven during search and rescue cases, as well as approximately 40 local charter vessels and additional transient vessels that frequent Hatteras village.
On June 6, the Dare County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to conduct a survey of the Hatteras Harbor area, which is expected to be completed this week.
The hope is that after the survey is completed, the U.S. Coast Guard can partner on the request for emergency dredging. This will make the project a priority for the Corps, which tackles numerous dredging projects all along the East Coast.
“There are criteria that have to be met for an emergency to be declared,” said Jeremiah Smith of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Monday’s meeting. “There’s less paperwork we have to do for an urgent request, but we really need the Coast Guard’s input for that.”
Dare County currently has $217,000 in funds remaining for Hatteras Connector Channel dredging projects, and these funds would likely be enough for the Corps’ dredge Murden to address the area in a 1-2 day dredging event.
Commissioner Ernie Foster and Chairman Steve “Creature” Coulter asked if the county-managed dredge Miss Katie could tackle the project instead, (which would likely be a more convenient and less expensive venture), but special permitting and permission would be needed first, which could take up to six months.
The Waterways Commission decided to wait until the survey of the Hatteras Harbor area was completed this week, and then decide on the best next steps to move forward.
Dredging is only allowed in the channels of Hatteras Inlet during an October 1-March 31 window, unless an emergency request is approved. With this timeframe in mind, the Corps is planning to do a Rollinson Channel pipeline dredge project this fall or winter, but there are issues with available funds that may delay or negate the project altogether.
If the emergency dredging for Hatteras Harbor is approved this summer, Hatteras Harbor may not be included in the fall/winter pipeline dredging project. But because there are concerns on whether the pipeline project will go forward, the Commission wanted to address Hatteras Harbor as soon as possible.
“The [Corps] had stated that they’re going to be limited on available funds,” said Kenneth Willson, Senior Project/Program Manager at Coastal Protection Engineering. “To dredge the inlet is a $6 million project, and they have $3.5 million – or something along those lines – and so the harbor would be dropped first in terms of priority.”
“[The Corps] is asking for funds from Hyde County, and they did mention that with the funds we’re transferring over for this emergency dredging event, if we wanted to use them for the pipeline event [instead], we could do that,” added Willson. “But essentially, unless Dare County ensures money with the state cost share match, it’s unlikely the harbor is going to get pipeline dredged.”
One of the major concerns for the Waterways Commission over the past few months has been where dredging funds and efforts have been concentrated, and where working watermen fit in within this tier of priorities.
“We had 1.6 million in funds this year, and they got eaten up by the Ferry Division in Barney Slough,” said Coulter. “And now we’ve got a pipeline project, and it’s supposed to clear the harbor for 75% of the boats that are going out [of Hatteras] right now… But the pipeline project in the fall is mainly because the Ferry Division needs it?”
“When it comes to prioritization, it’s Coast Guard, then Ferry Division – Those are the two at the top of the list,” said Smith.
“We feel like as private citizens and business owners, we’re not necessarily getting a fair shake in the way the Corps is spending the federal dollars in the Rollison Channel Project,” said Coulter. “We spent every federal dollar that we had, (for the entire channel for the year), in one section of the channel just to keep the ferries running. And now we’re talking about losing the funds that we had to get the Breakwater done, and putting them toward the end of Sloop Channel to keep the ferries running again.”
The Waterways Commission decided at Monday’s meeting to keep the conversation going, and to connect with the Ferry Division to discuss where to target dredging in the future, so that both the ferry channel as well as the Hatteras Harbor could be addressed.
Barton Grover, Dare County Grants & Waterways Administrator, also provided an update on an upcoming project to dredge Avon Harbor at Monday’s meeting. The dredging is expected to deepen Avon Harbor and the first mile of the channel to 6’ feet.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $1.6 million in funds for the dredging of Avon Harbor and the adjacent channel, but unlike the Corps’ past dredging projects, (such as in Oregon or Hatteras Inlets), there is not a clear disposal site for dredge material in the immediate Avon village area.
As a result, Dare County and other government agencies, (including the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the National Park Service), formulated a plan in early 2023 to transport the dredged material from Avon Harbor to the nearby soundside beaches between Avon and Buxton.
However, in order for the dredged sand to be placed in this area, initial Vibracore sampling, (a state-of-art sediment sampling process), was required to ensure that the material was safe and could be used to bolster the soundside area.
“Obviously, this material will be placed on a beach that is used by the public, so we need to make sure there are [no issues], like heavy metals, and petroleum. That is the first hurdle,” said Grover in an earlier interview.
The Dare County Board of Commissioners approved the initial testing, which was conducted in the spring, and Grover shared the recently released results with the Waterways Commission.
“We did get the material tests back, and the southern part of the harbor was pretty much over every single [limit]… so that part of the harbor is something we’ll have to be really cautious about when dredging,” said Grover at Monday’s meeting. “The north side of the harbor – the entrance to the harbor – only exceeded lead by a little bit, and exceeded diesel on the entrance to the harbor.”
“So, we’re talking with DOT and the Park Service to see if they have any other locations [where we can deposit the material], because based on those results, we’re not going to put the harbor material on a publicly used beach.”
Grover did say that the channel material test results came out well, and this material could likely be used to bolster public beaches. “The idea would be to find a [disposal site] for the harbor, and then the channeled material can be used for that beneficial use along the soundside beach.”
“It’s a setback, but we still have ways to try to work our way around it.”
As for the current channels in Hatteras Inlet, Coulter noted that vessels were not having an issue getting through the inlet since the channel was dredged in the spring of 2023 by Miss Katie and the Corps.
“It’s holding pretty well, and the connecting channel is still good,” said Coulter. “It could always use a little maintenance on the entrance coming out of Sloop into the connecting channel, but it’s holding up pretty well.”
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Commissioner Danny Couch, “But one storm could change everything.”
The next Dare County Waterways Commission meeting will be held in Manteo on July 10 at 7:00 p.m.