The Dare County Waterways Commission met on Monday night at the Fessenden Center in Buxton, and with hurricane season more than two weeks underway, the biggest issue raised was the depth of the emergency ferry channel which offers escape in the event of a major weather event affecting N.C. Highway 12.
All five board members in attendance expressed their concerns about the emergency ferry route from Rodanthe to Stumpy Point which, according to recent surveys, remains impassable.
An update from Steve Shriver of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the current emergency ferry route from Rodanthe Harbor to Stumpy Point Harbor reaches a depth of only 8 feet maximum – not nearly enough to conduct a ferry through. However, with it being outside of the dredging November 1 – April 30 window, there are currently no plans to correct the situation. If this news wasn’t concerning enough, Shriver also reported that the county-owned spoil site located in Rodanthe Harbor most likely cannot contain the necessary portion of sand needed to be removed from the channel in order to clear a path for the emergency ferry.
“The absurdity of this situation is significant,” Waterways Commission member Ernie Foster said of the lack of preparation.
Shriver also revealed that the federal government had no plans to deal with the situation before an emergency occurs due to a lack of funds in the budget. Currently, if a hurricane were to make N.C, Highway 12 unnavigable, it would take up to a week to get the ferry path cleared for escape.
With a mind to be more proactive than reactive, the Waterways Commission approved plans to inform the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) of the lack of emergency transportation in the event of a major weather event. They also determined to ask that the BOC budget for the dredging in the future.
“Let’s expedite the process by making sure they know that this is an impending emergency,” Commissioner Fletcher Willey said about talking to the BOC.
Another complication is that the Snell, which is the most capable dredge for the job, is unavailable until next year. Therefore, finding an eligible dredge to do the job might require the approval of permits from several levels of government.
Fortunately, the government’s dredging of the South Ferry Channel in Hatteras has been extremely successful so far this year. The deepening of these waters has brought in more than 20 boats for several fishing tournaments, including the Big Rock Tournament. One of the most highly anticipated fishing tournaments on the east coast, this competition has brought in more boats than Hatteras has seen in years.
Meanwhile, citizens from Avon stated their grievances with abandoned vessels in the Avon Harbor. According to a couple who spoke at the meeting, these boats have caused serious damage to a long-standing dock in the harbor, one of which is particularly special to their family. In response, the Waterways Commission made plans to contact the County Attorney for clarification of the rules regarding abandoned derelict vehicles. Until these abandoned vessels are removed, the Avon Harbor cannot be dredged.
A 2018 article in the Washington Daily News lists Dare County as one of three counties in North Carolina that have adopted ordinances to deal with the issue of abandoned derelict vehicles.
Despite this effort, the state has given little authority to local governments for dealing with these vessels. Earlier this year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission determined to push legislation
making it the responsibility of a state agency to remove these vehicles and provide room in the budget for such ventures.
With so many complications and red-tape, it is difficult to feel like there is anything affected citizens can do to remedy the situation. “Write your local congressman,” Waterways Commission Chairmen Steve Coulter suggests.
Thankfully, the team of six board members are dedicated to finding a solution, despite pushback. Each member of the Waterways Commission (Steve Coulter, Danny Couch, Fletch Willey, Ernie Foster, Natalie Kavanaugh, and Michael Flynn) was recently reappointed to serve for another two-year term.
The next meeting of the Dare County Waterways Commission is scheduled for July 8 at the Dare County Administration Building in Manteo.