With 48 vessels participating in last month’s 60th annual Hatteras Marlin Club Blue Marlin Release Tournament, members of the Dare County Waterways Commission on Monday applauded the absence of navigational problems during the June 23-29 event, calling it great news for the village, but also for the county’s advocacy for maintenance of Hatteras Inlet.
“We have a channel now that functions well,” Commission Vice-Chair Ernie Foster told the commission at an unusually short meeting in Manteo. “For the first time in years, people are saying ‘This really works,’” referring to lack of shoals that had scared off fishermen in past tournaments.
“It’s kind of back to normal,” he added.
Commissioner Dan Oden, owner of Oden’s Dock in Hatteras village, thanked the county for supporting the Waterways Commission’s efforts to secure funding and contracts to clear the shoaled channels.
“We’ve had a lot of boat traffic,” he said. Unlike recent years, the only issues tournament participants had getting in and out of Hatteras Inlet, Oden said, were due to “operator error.”
But with hurricane season approaching its peak month in mid-August, commission members are keeping a wary eye on maintaining continued access in the waterways.
At the recommendation of the county coastal engineering consultant, the commission voted unanimously to request an expedited survey of the South Ferry Channel in Hatteras Inlet this month so that a maintenance project in the fall could be done in a timely manner.
A persistent shoaling issue at the end of the emergency ferry channel in Rodanthe Harbor was also addressed. Todd Horton with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District navigation branch told the panel that the Corps plans to bring a dredge down from Norfolk by about Aug. 1 to work in the channel. The dredge material will be placed on a debris boat and removed, he said.
Ann Daisey, the Waterways Commission administrator, said that she is seeking multiple bids for repairs at the berm.
“It’s going to be a little more expensive because the contractors said they’re going to have to move a lot of material to repair the dike,” she said.
An emergency channel between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point provides a vital transportation backup for Hatteras Island if its roads or bridges are washed out in storms or closed by an accident. The route has been used several times after storms and a power outage.
The same area was a problem last summer, and after some rearranging of schedules, the Corps was able to use its dredge Snell to remove about 3,000 cubic yards of sand. But necessary repairs of a pipe under the spoil area were incomplete, and the disposal site was nearly at capacity for material.
At its May meeting, the commission was informed that a recent survey found some sections of channel with just 4 to 6-foot of water. The ferries, which draw 5.5 feet, need a minimum of 6 feet of water to use the channel.
The Snell, a multi-purpose dredge that’s been compared to a Swiss Army knife, is currently working on the Gulf coast, hence the substitute being brought from Norfolk.
In a later telephone interview, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said that he met recently with Horton and a representative from the state Department of Transportation to hammer out details on funding sources, equipment and timing of the dredge project.
Outten said the cost, estimated between $300,000 to $400,000, will be shared between the Corps, the state and the county, although a funding source and the percentage of shared responsibility are yet to be determined. A new survey will be done before the work is done, he said, which will nail down the cost of the work.
“What we want to do is get it open for hurricane season,” Outten said, adding that the higher threat is during the late summer months. “We will have it done before the end of August.”
Meanwhile, the long-discussed project at South Dock, the ferry terminal basin on the northern end of Ocracoke Island, is scheduled to start on July 23, said Lance Winslow, environmental supervisor for the state Ferry Division.
Winslow said that 1,000 linear feet of sheet pile will be barged to the site, where it will be installed to protect the basin from erosion. The area was declared an emergency situation last March, he said.
The barge and cranes will be at the site until the sheet pile is offloaded and in place, he said. The sheet pile, which has a protective coating, will be then be topped with concrete caps. The area will be backfilled, the dunes will be restored and beach grass will be planted, Winslow said. Weather permitting, the work will be completed by Oct. 1, he said, adding there will be no disruption to ferry traffic.
Funds for the $3.8 million project – half of which pay for the sheet pile – have been provided by the federal Highway Trust Fund.
Before the close of the meeting, which lasted a little more than an hour, the commission voted to recommend applicant Kermit Skinner to fill the seat of vacating veteran member Fletcher Willey. Skinner had served as Manteo Town Manager for more than 30 years before retiring last year.
Willey was appointed practically at the beginning of the Waterways Commission – established by the Dare County Board of Commissioners in 1983 – and has served since then.
In the early days, Willey recalled, the panel would send letters to reach out to various government entities like the Coast Guard and the Corps to communicate concerns and receive input.
“Now you’re in the room,” he said, nodding to a number of their representatives. “The other thing that’s different is we had a lot more money to work with then. There’s no slack in the line now.”
Willey said he is confident that Skinner -“a very solid gentleman”- will be an asset to the commission.
“I would wholeheartedly support his appointment,” he said.