With crisis conditions in Hatteras Inlet becalmed for the time being, members of the Dare County Waterways Commission are keeping a keen eye on the horizon to forestall planning kinks while turning its attention elsewhere to long-discussed projects in Avon Harbor and the Stumpy Point emergency ferry harbor.
During a low-key commission meeting on May 8 in Manteo, Commission Chair Steve “Creature” Coulter took note of the good work done in the spring by Dare County’s new hopper dredge Miss Katie in the inlet’s troublesome Connector Channel, leaving the only immediate concern being buoy placement.
“The Miss Katie has the (channel) as good as its been in five or six years,” Coulter told Jordan Hennessy, EJE Dredging Service vice-president. On the Sloop Channel side, Coulter added, “it’s creeping up on us a little bit, but everywhere else, it’s beautiful.”
EJE is the owner of the dredge and is operating in Hatteras and Oregon inlets under an agreement with the county.
Coulter asked Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John Ahlen, Commanding Officer of the Aids to Navigation, if buoys 13 and 14 in the Hatteras Inlet gorge could be moved away from an encroaching shoal with its new 14-foot vessel before the start of the Hatteras Village Offshore Open this week. Also, the Big Rock tournament starts on June 9, when the larger boats will be transiting the inlet.
“That is our main goal for the next two weeks,” Ahlen responded, speaking remotely via video.
Meanwhile, Dare County plans to submit permit applications soon for authorization for the Miss Katie to dredge the entire recently realigned federal channel as well as the non-federal bar in Hatteras Inlet, Dare County Grants and Waterways administrator Barton Grover told the panel. The review is expected to take about five months, he added.
Grover said that the county-based dredge is expected to replace work in the inlet that had been done by the Army Corps of Engineers under a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the state and county. The county also plans to determine new spots to dump dredge material closer to where the dredge is working.
“We’re essentially copying what the Corps does,” he said. “The main thing we’re doing is changing the disposal areas.”
In an almost comical illustration of bureaucratic rigidity, Grover detailed the required steps for about $155,000 to be returned to the county coffers. As he explained, that was Dare’s cost share of unused funds that had been transferred to the Corps for additional work in the Connector Channel. But after the Hatteras Channel re-alignment was approved in December, that channel effectively became part of the authorized federal channel, meaning it no longer would be maintained under the prior MOA. In order for the total $217,000 to be returned, the process would have to be done in reverse, step-by-step; that is, the Corps transfers the money to the state, then the state transfers Dare’s share back to the county. At the same time, the county is planning to seek a different long-term MOA that would expand flexibility with the partners.
In another update, Grover reported that vibracore samples taken at heavily-shoaled Avon Harbor had been collected last week to be examined for heavy metals and petroleum, with results due by Friday. If the results are good, he said, the Corps is expected to start work clearing the harbor, basin and channel this winter, likely early 2024. Since there is no room for a bermed containment area, the project will be “bucket and barge,” with about 20,000 cubic yards of material removed, and transferred by truck to the Canadian Hole in Buxton.
Dare County is paying the $160,000 tab for trucking and core samples, Grover said, but the Corps’ cost for dredging is not yet available. The state Department of Transportation is handling the permitting and providing technical assistance, as well as taking the lead on beach placement of the sand. Since the bucket and barge work is slower than pipeline dredging, the project is expected to take at least a couple of months and will be more expensive, Grover estimated.
Over at Stumpy Point, where the emergency ferry channel from Rodanthe ends, work has begun on the initial design and engineering phase for enlarging the berm where about 200,000 cubic yards of dredged sand is expected to be deposited.
“We have to elevate the berm to handle the dredge material,” Grover explained in a later interview.
Although the Corps is slated to do the dredging project in the federal portion of the channel, for which it has been allocated $1.6 million, he said, the county is responsible for providing a disposal site — but the site near the state’s emergency ferry dock is currently at capacity. The original estimate for the berm expansion engineering and construction is $835,000, he said, with the state covering 75% of the cost, and county responsible for the remainder.
The emergency channel has been used several times after storms and road and bridge closures to ferry residents, tourists and workers off Hatteras Island.
Back to Hatteras Inlet, Cat Peele, planning and development manager with NCDOT Ferry Division, told commissioners that the division is seeking to modify its permit to allow use of a hopper dredge for the north end of Sloop Channel, which is part of the ferry channel —-along with nearby Barney Slough — that has been plagued with shoaling on and off in the last year. Also, Peele said the division is looking at modifying the permitted area for their channel to make it straighter, a potential improvement that has been identified by the Coast Guard.
Todd Horton, chief of the waterways management section at the Corps’ Wilmington district, speaking remotely, had earlier informed the panel that the Corps’ $1.5 million Rollinson Channel project funds used for the ferry channel maintenance are gone for fiscal year 2023, which ends on Sept. 30.
With Sloop Channel needing additional attention, Hyde County on May 1 submitted an application to the state for shallow draft navigational funds to dredge the north end. As a Tier 1 county, Hyde qualifies for a 0% match for funding from the state shallow draft fund for ferry channel projects. Typically, the funds would be available in 30 days.
Horton said the Corps still plans to do the Rollinson pipeline dredge project this fall or winter, between the Oct. 1-March 31 window. Placement of dredge material will be at Cora June Island or on a National Park Service beach parallel to Pole Road in Hatteras village, or on Ocracoke Island, whichever site is closest. The project will also include dredging the entrance between the breakwaters at Hatteras Harbor Marina.
But there was concern from several members of the Waterways Commission that the breakwater area would be dangerously shoaled by winter. At the suggestion of Peele, the panel agreed to request that Dare County declare an emergency in order to have the Dredge Murden stop by earlier in Hatteras on its way down to New Jersey for a scheduled project.
By next month’s meeting in Buxton, the Waterways Commission may see two new faces.
Ahlen, with the Coast Guard, is heading to the West Coast, and he said he hopes to be able to introduce his replacement in person before he leaves. Also, member Kermit Skinner has submitted his resignation. John Berquist, a Kitty Hawk resident who runs an outboard business, threw his hat in the ring, and the commission voted unanimously to recommend his appointment.
“I used to run a restaurant in Southern Shores,” he told commissioners, referring to the Pizza Stop that he owned for 8 years. “I sold it to fish.
“I know y’all are from Hatteras, but there’s nobody here from up the beach.”