Emergency ferry serves as Hatteras Island’s lifeline

By on December 10, 2012

Emergency ferry departing Rodanthe (NCDOT).

For the second straight autumn, the NCDOT Ferry Division has called into service an emergency ferry route across the Pamlico Sound to temporarily reconnect Hatteras Island to the outside world.

From fuel and food to commuters and vacationers, the vessels making the 2 1/2 hour trek have been the key lifeline for the island while N.C. 12 has been closed by hurricanes.

“The emergency route is a ferry-wide undertaking,” said Lucy Wallace, Ferry Division communications officer.

Boat and shore crews are composed primarily of those working on the Hatteras Inlet route, but are also made up of workers from Ocracoke, Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, Cherry Branch, Pamlico River and Currituck routes.

“We do have guys from all over the ferry system helping out,” Wallace said. “When operations managers at our other routes know they’ve got crewmembers who are here on the emergency route, they must make adjustments.”

The estimated cost to operate the route is $33,000 a day for labor and fuel, which is down from about $38,000 a day prior to Thanksgiving.

“When we reduced runs Nov. 28, eliminating the 8 p.m. departure from Stumpy Point and the 11 p.m. departure from Rodanthe, we reduced our crews and fuel, saving us approximately $5,000 a day,” Wallace said.

Four River Class vessels are used during the day, and two at night, each staffed with a five-person crew.

The Coast Guard granted a waiver of the requirement that six crewmembers have to be on board, but they are limited to a 12-hour-per-day shift.

“On the shore we have approximately five employees on the Rodanthe side during the day for traffic, answering phones, security and mechanic, etc. and probably four on at night,” said Wallace.

Eight employees work at Stumpy Point during the day, and about six at night.

There are even more employees working behind the scenes to keep the emergency route operating.

“We not only have operations managers and crews but mechanics, electricians, welders, etc. from the shipyard and Hatteras maintenance who’ve helped out and the facility maintenance employees who’ve provided hours of assistance to help make the temporary operations work efficiently,” Wallace said.

“And we also have our Emergency Ops Center people in Morehead City constantly in touch with the emergency group to assist in making sure things run smoothly,” Wallace said.

“These guys don’t look at coming here to assist with the emergency route as a hardship at all,” Wallace said. “They know this is something important and how it affects people’s lives and feel good about supplying the lifeline and making a difference.”

The route saw a crush of users in the first few days, with some travelers waiting between eight and 12 hours just to board.

“During the first several weeks and Thanksgiving weekend, we had more shore personnel helping with traffic control but that has tapered off,” Wallace said.

Through Dec. 3, 12,206 vehicles had made the two-hour crossing. The busiest day was Nov. 5, four days after restrictions were lifted on who could use the route.

“Some days are busy, some days are just steady and the open or closure of the four-wheel-drive access on N.C. 12 does directly affect us,” Wallace said.

“If the access is closed, we get busier and if it is open, we’re steady carrying mostly big trucks and trailers,” Wallace said.

The busiest departure has been at 6 a.m. from Stumpy Point and slowest times are the night runs, according to Wallace.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday have been designated as fuel truck days.

“This helps us best utilize space, because when carrying a fuel truck, you are limited to only 25 passengers onboard,” Wallace said. “We have been trying to schedule the fuel trucks when it doesn’t impact other traffic.”

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