The side caster dredge Merritt works in the Hatteras Inlet in July 2021. Photo by Donna Barnett

While Hatteras Inlet is currently enjoying a respite from crisis mode, members of the Dare County Waterways Commission are keeping an eye on the horizon to ensure that the channels are maintained, and the agencies are prepared with permits and funding.

“I’m glad to hear Sloop Channel is holding up there,” Joen Petersen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Floating Plant, told members of the Dare County Waterways Commission in a video call during Monday’s meeting in Manteo, referring to recent emergency dredging.

“When can you come and make it wider?” responded commission chair Steve “Creature” Coulter.

Coulter was not so much complaining as to alluding to the reality of the channel’s 100-foot width, which is the maximum authorized under the current permit. And he was not the only waterman with the question.

Ernie Dossier, a member of the Ocracoke Waterways Commission, speaking remotely, said he was told recently that it would be lucky if the channel lasted another month for large boats – say, two 45-footers – to squeeze through it.

“We need bigger channels,” Dossier said. “Who do we gotta ask?”

An emergency dredging project was authorized by the Corps in Sloop Channel in March after months of touch-and-go transit for the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferries. The channel was cut in a straighter alignment outside the shoaled area used by ferries, fishing vessels, and charter boats.

Miss Katie Dredge. Photo by Dare County.

With the ink barely dry on the new Sloop configuration, Ken Willson, Dare County dredge projects consultant with Coastal Planning & Engineering of North Carolina, said that a request for a wider channel may be possible after the final permit is approved for the new 100-foot channel, which won’t happen for months.

The Corps has already voiced support for a 200-foot width for Sloop, probably with wideners, to allow more flexibility, he added.

Willson said the county is continuing to work on applications for numerous permit modifications that would allow the dredge Miss Katie, which is based in Wanchese, to work in other Hatteras Inlet channels and the ocean bar.  Other modifications would provide more areas and flexibility for the dredges to dispose material in and around the inlet.

“These permits are really complicated,” Willson said. “A lot goes into trying to keep these things straight.”

In recent months, the Miss Katie dredge cleared nearly 23,000 cubic yards of material out of the Connector Channel, but once the modification is in place, the dredge will be able to work in the same inlet channels as the Corps. Modification application approvals can range from six weeks to six months, depending on whether they’re minor or major.

Another Sloop Channel issue, stemming from frequent confusion about Hatteras Inlet channel names, was also carried over from April. As First Class Petty Officer Patrick Tallant with the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Unit told commissioners last month, according to meeting minutes, their official light list refers to the entire ferry route as Barney Slough. But the Corps survey  — as well as locals, including some Coast Guard members —describe the emergency channel as part of Sloop Channel. It is also known as Rollinson Channel and the horseshoe route, with Sloop and Barney Slough described as parts of one or the other.  And those don’t even mention the now-retired names South Ferry Channel and briefly-used Crossover Channel, now the Connector Channel, that were often confused with the other channels.

Consequently, when the Coast Guard issues a Notice to Mariners about conditions in Barney Slough, confusion reigns. Later in the meeting, Tallant said the request to clarify channel names would be Sloop —the west side of the horseshoe from buoy 7B south to South Dock; and Barney Slough — the east side of the horseshoe. Additional channel names used by the Coast Guard would include Rollinson, Hatteras Connecting, Hatteras Connector, and Hatteras Inlet.

Tallant confirmed at the May 13 meeting that the request has been submitted and is still under review.

After discussing the pros and cons of using $900,000 of funds available to have the capacity to dredge Stumpy Point emergency ferry channel to an extra foot of depth, commissioners decided it would be more beneficial to have the funds in the kitty for other projects or emergency needs.

“They’ve been able to get into Stumpy Point and Rodanthe with current conditions,” commission administrator Barton Grover explained in a later interview.

After a test run earlier this year between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe, he said, the Corps determined that the channel is about 5- to 6-foot deep, which is close to the ferry draft.

The Corps had planned to dredge the federal channel to a 10-foot depth, but with inflation, the project had to be decreased to 8 feet. Dare County had planned on a $1.2 million project to build the additional capacity it is required to provide for disposal of the dredge material.

The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, does not have the funds to dredge its 1,500-foot part of the emergency channel, which is also about six feet deep.

“So do we spend $1.2 million to dredge to the dead end?” Coulter asked.

Although Grover said that the cost was reasonable and it would be good to have the capacity available when it’s needed, he said that it was possible the channel could stay navigable for a few years or more.

But with the back-and-forth adjustments in costs and cubic footage because of inflation, the county had the option for the Corps to dredge to 7 feet, which would allow disposal within the county’s existing 50,000-cubic-yard capacity.

Presented with a currently manageable situation and the security of having funds in hand for project needs in Hatteras or Wanchese,  the commission voted unanimously to not spend the funds and do without the additional foot of dredging.

In other business, Grover said all of the current board members — Steve Coulter, Danny Couch, KP Scott, Michael Flynn, Natalie Kavanagh, Ernie Foster, and John Berquist — signed on for another two-year term.

The post Waterways Commission eyes upcoming dredging projects to widen Hatteras Inlet channels appeared first on Island Free Press.

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Credit: Original content published here.

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