Inlet conditions improve, task force formed

By on January 16, 2013

State Sen. Bill Cook, left, and Rep. Paul Tine. (Rob Morris)

As conditions at Oregon Inlet slowly begin to improve, the Dare County Board of Commissioners has authorized a new task force that will look for possible long-term fixes to keep the troublesome channel clear.

Commissioners formed the panel after an emergency meeting Tuesday night with commercial fishermen, boatbuilders, charter captains and others.

Meanwhile, the channel under the navigation span of the Bonner Bridge has gotten deeper with better weather and dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Up until last week, the channel was essentially closed with depths of 4 feet and sometimes less measured under the bridge. Last Monday, about 150 watermen and boat builders crowded the Board of Commissioners meeting, describing what they called a “crisis situation.”

The channel was so shallow that even the Coast Guard could not get out to reposition markers displaced by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October and subsequent nor’easters.

Following the emergency session, Coast Guard Cmdr. Paul Bertram told the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission that the channel is now deep enough to allow its boat to begin putting the markers back in place. Work will be done as weather permits, which could be as early as today.

He told the waterways commission that top brass at one point was preparing to declare the inlet closed but decided to wait and see if things improve.

More than 50 people attended the meeting.

The season for striped bass trawling in the ocean starts next Tuesday. Trawlers need at least 8 feet of depth to get through the inlet. But many companies have closed, have moved or are taking their catch to Virginia and safer harbor.

Channel depths have also created problems for boat builders. Customers for repairs are reluctant to contract with local companies because of the access problems.

At about the same time commissioners were meeting Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed additional provisions for Hurricane Sandy relief. The $51 billion package includes $742 million for the Corps of Engineers to clear channels and repair projects damaged by the storm.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said last month that the Corps would spend $9 million of the money to dredge Oregon Inlet and interior channels and another $2 million for the Hatteras ferry channel.

The dredge Currituck was out for repairs but was expected to be back to work at Oregon Inlet Thursday. (Pat Morris)

The package goes back to the Senate, which is expected to pass it, then to President Obama for his signature. More money would come just in time. The corps has about $325,000 — or 10 days worth of work — left in its budget, according to Roger Bullock, chief of the navigation branch for the Corps’ Wilmington District.

But even with an influx of new money, the amount represent about what the corps was once receiving annually to clear the inlet. The federal government had pledged to survey and maintain the channel at 14 feet deep and 400 feet wide as an alternative to a jetty on the north side of the inlet and extending the terminal groin on the south side.

Construction of a new bridge over Oregon Inlet is seen as a permanent solution because the higher navigation spans will run over a natural channel that is up to 40 feet deep. But hanging over initial work is a lawsuit by environmental groups, and construction is projected to take five years

County commissioners see the new task force as a vehicle to find and lobby for fixes beyond the current patchwork of maintenance.

Four members of the Oregon Inlet Users Association will be on the task force along with one from the Oregon Inlet commission, one from the county Board of Commissioners and the chairman of the Wanchese Seafood Park board chairman.

Also attending the emergency meeting were newly elected state Sen. Bill Cook and state Rep. Paul Tine. They both pledged to push for help in Raleigh. Cook said that Oregon Inlet needs a full-time advocate to keep the issue at the forefront.

“It sounds like a joke, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. “You need a wheel. Somebody who’s got the time to devote to just this issue and keep pounding and squeaking. And eventually, you’ll get something done.”

Harry Shiffman, representing the inlet users association, proposed hiring former Kill Devil Hills Mayor and retired county planning director Ray Sturza as the task force’s executive director. The board of commissioners will decide on funding and staffing the panel at its next meeting, which is Tuesday.

The navigation channel under the bridge is marked by the brackets on the left. (USACE)

Sources of funding for the inlet are likely to be at the top of the panel’s to-do list. The corps and the state have a memorandums of agreement that allows contracting with the federal government to do the work. Though often short on money, the corps has the equipment and permits to do the work.

Warren Judge, chairman of the board of commissioners, suggested that if dredging could be tied to widening the beach on Hatteras Island, some money might be available from the county’s beach nourishment fund.

At the Inlet and Waterways Commission meeting that followed, Steve Shriver of the Corps’ Survey Section said the channel under the bridge is as deep as 7 feet now, but shoaling on the north side still needs to be cleared out. East of the navigation span, the channel is 300 to 350 feet wide and 8 to 9 feet deep.

Shoaling, however, has built up on the outer bar where the channel is now marked.

Solutions include dredging with the Corps’ larger vessel the Currituck after it finishes work near the bridge, or moving the channel north, where the water is deeper. The latter would likely be complicated by the logistics of arranging for an oceangoing ship to move the outer markers.

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The Captain

January 20, 2013 9:35 am

Simply put, Jones is not looking out for his people. Put the party vote aside. That’s the problem, both parties can not come together on anything. I would hate to see them make a decision on a dying person.


January 18, 2013 11:33 am

Hey Bill, thanks for catching the spelling error and offering nothing else of value to the discussion!


January 18, 2013 9:06 am

Call it pork if you wish, but these jetties will pay for themselves time and again unlike much of highspeed rail, solar, wind, ethanol, and countless other $ billion dollar and useless appropriations many of you/us indirectly voted for.

Calling it pork is exactly what other representatives around the US will call it. It is the reason given by Mr. Jones as to why he voted nay, because of “pork” in the Sandy Bill. However, as long as we have Obama in office, I’m fairly certain we can count on Mr. Jones to act more like a republican lemming than to vote on things that make sense for his constituency. Perhaps our electorate will remember this when it comes time for his re-election, and not be suckered by the simpleton talking points he feeds us.


January 18, 2013 2:22 am

Well its good to see that the Dare County good ole boys club is alive and well with the Sturza recommendation.


January 17, 2013 8:32 pm

So government spending is the problem, but please , Government, build us a jetty system. Our congressman was courageously against all that “pork” (translates as other communities other than us) but we are having the real crisis here! A real dilemma, isn’t it.


January 17, 2013 8:20 pm

“So why not put a jeddi in? Is it because that would make sense?”

A “jeddi” makes a lot more sense than wasting money on a permanent jetty.


January 17, 2013 8:05 pm

Wow. It sounds like things got magically better awfully fast. Hmmmm…..


January 17, 2013 4:29 pm

Hey Jeff. Walter takes stands all the time and his constituents get zip..

Perhaps Walter should grant an interview so he can explain his baffling reasoning.


January 17, 2013 4:13 pm

Dave, here are the reasons the feds aren’t going to build a jetty:

The response by supporters here:

essentially ignores the performance and environmental objections in the GAO report. Which is probably why the task force above didn’t bother to discuss a jetty as a solution.

As I said in the earlier thread, build the new bridge, move the navigation span south to deeper water, and identify a local source of funding for dredging.


January 17, 2013 2:33 pm

Nothing will get done with this many people in a meeting. PERIOD. Bottom line, a complete and economically-facts based document needs to be marched right into Rep Jones and Sen Burr and Sen Hagan’s office. They need to tell the wackos to get out of the way on this one and get a jetty project tagged to a funding bill, plain and simple. Call it pork if you wish, but these jetties will pay for themselves time and again unlike much of highspeed rail, solar, wind, ethanol, and countless other $ billion dollar and useless appropriations many of you/us indirectly voted for.

Rob Morris

January 17, 2013 11:56 am

And Another Thing . . . Please see related stories.

And Another Thing

January 17, 2013 11:49 am

Attending were more than just fishermen and boat builders and charter boat captains. Missing from this report is the 100,000 jobs of all sorts dependent on a healthy inlet (outlet)in 17 counties. Think restaurants and gas stations and cottages and schools. The inlet brings in close to $100M in tax revenue to the state and federal government. Where will that money come from if the inlet remains unreliable and even dangerous?


January 17, 2013 10:54 am

You Can't Win

January 17, 2013 10:53 am

Outer Banks residents simply must come to grips with the geologic reality of where they live. The Banks are likely the second-fastest-changing place in America, second only to regions in Hawaii where volcanoes alter the landscape every day. Any OBX native knows the islands change constantly, and sometimes dramatically in the wink of an eye. Building a business in such a high-risk zone is, well, highly risky. If folks choose to build a business near an active volcano, its pretty ridiculous for them to complain when the volcano erupts and wrecks their business. So too the OBX. It is shocking how few OBX natives understand this or think they can somehow beat the forces of nature that have been at work for thousands of years and will be here for thousands to come. But after all this is the Graveyard of the Atlantic. “All-knowing and all-powerful” Humans have misjudged the OBX and have been demolished by the Banks for centuries


January 17, 2013 9:49 am

Adam, the word you are looking for would be “Hypocrites”.


January 17, 2013 9:42 am

So why not put a jeddi in? Is it because that would make sense? Is it because someone other than the powers that be didn’t think of it and they won’t get credit for doing the right thing?


January 17, 2013 9:04 am

Mr. Jones took a stand on a bill filled with pork spending, which took guts. I applaud him.


January 17, 2013 8:04 am

Remove the groin and let the sand flow!


January 17, 2013 12:29 am

Hurricane Sandy was at the end of October, not August as the story currently reads.


January 16, 2013 9:33 pm

According to, Our congressman Walter Jones voted “NAY” on HR 152 which would provide relief for hurricane Sandy relief including “…$742 million for the Corps on Engineers to clear channels….”

Walter !!!!!! What were you thinking? More importantly, whoever voted for this guy, and anyone else who cares about the situation at Oregon Inlet should either be ashamed of themselves for voting for this guy or beating down his door to demand support OUR district. This sounds like a case of Walter putting other interests in front of ours. Lets get on the case. Pack his office with constituents, hammer his big contributors. No wonder we don’t have action. The local congressman doesn’t even support the cause.
Walter…..Walter….Walter….you fail us….once again.

For the record click on this link.

OBX Resident

January 16, 2013 8:03 pm

Dare County Commissioners “authorize a new task force” to deal with the inlet, what is the purpose of the Oregon Inlet Waterways Commission? How is the doubly secret new task force going to interact with the OI Commission? How are their missions different? Instead of hiring another person, how about charging the current county employee that heads the OÍ Commission to continue the work sought for Sturza. If they can’t do it; fire ‘em and hire someone else that can get it done. What is the purpose of the current OI commission county staff person?

Barking dog

January 16, 2013 7:56 pm

I agree! Ray Sturza would be great! He knows the rules and whose in charge and can make it happen!
He doesn’t mess around and he does his homework!

Duke Geraghty

January 16, 2013 4:23 pm

I think Ray Sturza is an excellent choice. He has political knowledge, knows the environmental side from his work with CRC and has always been a strong advocate for Dare County


January 16, 2013 3:13 pm

Can someone please explain why every republican voted no but they WANT the federal gov to keep the inlet open. Baffling.

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