Optimism, lingering questions at Dare waterways meeting

By on October 11, 2017

The Currituck worked in Hatteras Inlet in late September.

By Joy Crist
Island Free Press

The Dare County Waterways Commission met at the Fessenden Center on Tuesday to review recent dredging at Hatteras Inlet and to discuss upcoming goals and maintenance projects.

The commission also received some relatively good news.

A survey conducted on Friday, Oct. 6, showed little change to the dredged areas of Hatteras Inlet since the last one on Sept. 20.

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The survey was done before the Army Cops of Engineers’ Currituck had to cease operations due to stormy weather. Dredging was conducted from Sept. 14 to 16 for 24 hours a day, and from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23 for 12 hours a day.

“We were pleasantly surprised that it looks as good as it does,” said Steve Shriver, team leader of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ survey section. “We were expecting it to be a little more filled in.”

Most of the controlling depths in the channel remained in the range of 7 or 8, which was more or less identical to the Sept. 20 survey results.

“The weather may have helped us,” said Shriver, “as well as the couple of storms that came through.”

In the next few months, the Currituck will be the only vessel available to dredge in Hatteras Inlet. The Merritt is in Wilmington en route to Memphis, where its hull will be replaced, and the Murden is committed to projects in the northeast.

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As such, Steve Shriver and Jim Medlock, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works project manager, recommended that brief but regular maintenance dredging be performed in the months to come.

“If the Currituck cannot get in there because it’s too shallow … well, it’s really the Currituck or nothing,” said Medlock. “We certainly don’t want to lose what we’ve done.”

Funds still remain for upcoming projects, which should cover at least one more cycle of maintenance dredging at Hatteras Inlet. Shriver and Medlock also recommended conducting another survey before Thanksgiving, which the board endorsed via a motion by board member Ernie Foster.

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Chris Bock, Hatteras operations superintendent for the NCDOT Ferry Division, also reported at the meeting that dredging is planned at South Dock on the northern edge of Ocracoke Island partly to address damage from Hurricane Maria.

The South Dock Basin, which is the entrance for vehicular ferries, has historically been 100 feet wide. Now, at 50 feet, it can barely accommodate the 45-foot-wide vessels.

A permit is in place to expand the basin to 225 feet and to use the excess sand to rebuild the parking area and stacking lanes that were damaged by Hurricane Maria.

The federal contract that will allow for several upcoming dredge projects was also discussed at the meeting.

The contract essentially entails five projects in the eastern North Carolina area. They include two sites in Wanchese, a site in Carteret County, and locally 1,500 feet of Rollison Channel near the Breakwater, and Walter Slough going to the Coast Guard station.

There is also an option to dredge at Big Foot Slough and other areas of Ocracoke Inlet, but the missing piece to move forward is funds.

Medlock said that there were several ways to move forward. An appropriations bill needs to be passed to obtain the $400,000 needed to dredge at Big Foot Slough, but last year. However, the Corps can request funds in advance, and a request is in the works.

Another less appealing option is to obtain the funds from the state. But in this scenario, North Carolina would pay 75 percent and a county sponsor, in this case Hyde County, would need to pay 25 percent or $100,000. Representatives from the newly formed Hyde County Waterways Commission, who attended the meeting, noted that this would be difficult.

Other potential long-term issues were also discussed, including next summer’s dredging. Because the Corps can only dredge from October through March, unless they have been granted an extension, navigation through the inlet may once again become an issue when summer of 2018 rolls around.

“We’ve got it now, and we need to maintain it,” said board member Steve Coulter. “We don’t have unlimited resources or unlimited time, and I’d like to see if there’s any way we can get the dredge window expanded.”

For now, however, Hatteras Inlet remains in decent shape for visiting mariners.

“This is the first time that I have felt optimistic about Hatteras having a usable channel in a long time,” said board member Ernie Foster. “We need to get the word out to anyone who has a boat that there’s enough water to use it. And we haven’t been able to say that in a long time.”

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