Outer Banks mariners will see not only a new Coast Guard aid to navigation chief, but there will also be a new 49-foot buoy tender boat patrolling the waterways instead of the 55-foot vessel that had been used to maintain channel markers.
Introducing himself at the Dare County Waterways Commission meeting on Monday evening in Manteo, Patrick Tallant, Officer in Charge at the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Unit in Wanchese, said he has worked for the last 15 years up and down the East Coast, and has tended offshore buoys from Cape Fear to the Hudson River.
“I ran that boat for years up in Baltimore, Maryland,” he told commissioners.” “But it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been back. So I need to knock some rust off.”
Tallant said that the 49-foot boat has a higher lifting capacity to handle more seas than the 55-footer, and can set buoys twice the size. Although it can go only about half the speed and will take more time to get places, he said, it is nonetheless a better asset “to accomplish the mission.” With the Hatteras 55-footer now moved to Virginia, the only other two still in the water are on the West Coast and at Puerto Rico, all soon to phased out.
Also, three former crew members have switched out for new crew, Tallant said, creating “a little bit of a rotation period.”
“It’s going to take a little time to get the crew trained up and sufficient with doing operations on that boat,” he said. “So have a little bit of patience with us . . . We have to make sure we’re safe and effective to run that boat in Hatteras.”
Commissioner Ernie Foster, a Hatteras charter boat captain, told Tallant that the Hatteras Inlet bar area, which he described as 15- to 25-feet deep and at least one-third mile wide, needs at least one marker, preferably two, especially to help guide out-of-town boaters.
“When you’re coming in, you have the sea buoy, the two fairway buoys, you cross the bar, and then the next buoy is so far away that only by chance would you see it,” Foster said. “No matter how hard you look, you’d have trouble finding it . . . Anyone coming in, if you cross that bar, you’re lost.”
In response, Tallant said he will look into the issue, and check if it can be taken care of by the 49-footer, or if the Coast Guard’s heavy duty buoy tender Maple would be required.
“It certainly has been needed for a long time,” Commission Chair Steve “Creature” Coulter said.
Meanwhile, Todd Horton, chief of the waterways management section at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington district, speaking remotely, reported that the sidecaster dredge Merritt had worked last week in Sloop Channel, where a survey on June 29 showed that a portion of the channel — which is used by the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferries — was narrowing, with only about seven feet of width. Another survey will be done after the Merritt departs, he said. Depending on the progress shown, the dredge may return to do additional dredging.
Horton also said that the Corps expects to have an additional $1 million provided in its FY 2024 budget to dredge the Hatteras side of the ferry route by Barney Slough.
In another project done by the special purpose hopper dredge Murden, an emergency dredging project requested by Dare County and the Waterways Commission was started June 30 and completed on July 2 at the breakwater in Hatteras Harbor. Since the project fell outside the permitted fall window, the emergency request was required.
“We’re grateful,” said commission member Danny Couch, referring to the now-cleared shoaling that had hindered safe access for months. “There was a lot of visibility on that. There’s a lot of happy marine people.”
The county has submitted an application to permit its home-based hopper dredge Miss Katie to do work in the entire Hatteras Inlet navigational channel, which is expected to be finalized in about six months.
Barton Grover, Dare County Grants & Waterways Administrator, informed the commission that there is $1 million available for Miss Katie projects in the new FY 2024 county budget that went into effect July 1. The funds cover the 75% state/25% county cost share.
In an update on the dredge project for Avon Harbor, Grover said that the geotech consultant said that the tested dredge material from the harbor that was determined to be unsuitable for beach disposal would likely be suitable to put in an area of dry land. But the problem is that the state Department of Transportation said their maintenance yard in Buxton is overfilled and has no space for the material, he said.
“So that was a little bit of a setback,” Grover told members. “So, we’re still discussing trying to find a spot to put the material permanently.”
The good news is that the channel material is probably clean enough to be used on a beach.
The Army Corps is planning to do a $1.6 dredge project in Avon Harbor, including its channel, but it cannot do the project until the county determines the details of the disposal of the dredge material.
In a later interview, Grover said that the county has reached out to some owners of commercial property between Avon and Buxton, where the material could be affordably trucked, but there have yet to be decisions on suitable placement.