Reprinted from the Island Free Press
OCRACOKE — The Coast Guard has come to the rescue of Ocracokers desperately in need of medications from a pharmacy in Hatteras while the ferry between the two islands is shut down by shoaling in the channel.
Chris Wright, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet, said last week that the Coast Guard will transport medications from Beach Pharmacy to the north end ferry dock where someone from the Ocracoke Health Center will pick them up.
“As long as the weather holds out, we’ll be making a daily run at 1 p.m.,” Wright said, adding that he spoke with Steve Evans, owner of Beach Pharmacy in Avon. “We ran it up the chain (of command) quickly and, yes, we can help.”
He also said he will reach out to both Dare and Hyde County Emergency Management so that these groups know the Coast Guard is there to help if they can.
Evans explained that he had made a few runs himself to deliver medications to the island and recruited his friend Marshall Foster, who works for the N.C. Department of Transportation Ferry Division, to take him to the Ocracoke ferry dock in one of Foster’s dad’s boats. Dwight Burrus of Hatteras village, who has a private plane, also has been pressed into service.
This channel marker should be floating upright instead of tilting on its side in the shallow water. Photo: Connie Leinbach, Island Free Press
“We’ll get the medications to Ocracoke any way we can,” Evans said.
A four-person Coast Guard crew traversed the channel on Jan. 23 in 15 minutes to hand off medications to Jamie Tunnell Carter, the manager of the Ocracoke Health Center, who gave them a container for the courier on the Hatteras side.
The Ferry Division suspended the ferry between the islands Jan. 18 after high winds the night before caused the ferry channel at markers No. 9 and No.10 to shoal over and become impassable for the ferries, which draft about four feet of water. Boats with lower drafts of one or two feet, such as ones Foster and the Coast Guard can use, have been able to get through the channel to Ocracoke.
The ferry Division added runs between both Cedar Island and Swan Quarter and exempted residents and vendors from the tolls.
Allen Burrus of Hatteras, a Dare County commissioner, said at last week’s board meeting that the Army Corps of Engineers has identified another route farther into the sound that the ferries possibly could use while the regular channel is being dredged.
The Corps is surveying that area, said Jed Dixon, deputy director of the Ferry Division, but it may not be a feasible route as it depends on several factors–particularly a viable depth. Then the Coast Guard has to certify a new channel and set channel markers, all of which could take days to complete.
“My position is that this is all speculation,” Dixon said. “At this point, I don’t know the likelihood of this happening.”
Meanwhile, the pipeline dredge Richmond, owned by Cottrell Contracting of Chesapeake, Va., is pretty much on schedule and has worked through two of the “hot spots,” said Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the Army Corps. It is heading toward the next hot spots in the Hatteras Inlet.
The dredge is about 65 percent through its contracted area, Dixon said. After the dredge finishes at the final hot spots at markers No. 9 and No.10, it will move back into the Rollinson Channel area.
The dredge this week is in the vicinity of marker 9A, and the project is about 60 percent complete by quantity, according to a DOT statement.
The contractor has removed 76,751 cubic yards of material to a required depth of 10 feet, with two feet of over dredging since Dec. 1, according to the statement.
The DOT said the Army Corps of Engineers will be providing a weekly report to help keep residents updated on the progress of the project.
Meanwhile on Monday, Congress gave final approval to a $50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
Part of the package includes money for the Corps to pay for additional dredging at Hatteras Inlet, along with Oregon Inlet and other waterways around the area.
Money from the bill that is now headed to President Barack Obama for his signature will also reimburse the DOT for repairs to N.C. 12 at Mirlo Beach and Kitty Hawk, washed out by Hurricane Sandy.
As for the suspended ferries, Dixon said they are assessing the channel daily.
“A big portion of the channel is filled in below four feet,” he said. “We can’t operate in that depth.”
Until the Hatteras ferry lane opens up, Ocracokers are finding other ways to get their business and personal needs met, such as veterinary services.
Roanoke Island Animal Clinic in Manteo has a standing third-Wednesday-of-the-month clinic on Ocracoke but hasn’t been to the island since November. The clinic hopes to get to the island in February.
Reggie Mosser, a New Mexico resident who with her husband, George Brown, lives in Ocracoke for the winter, had to find a veterinarian last week in Morehead City to get annual shots for her dog.
Others with doctors’ appointments are similarly scrambling.
“My son has some dentist appointments with Dr. Slagle in Frisco,” said Merle Davis. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to get to them.”
The Coast Guard boat pulls away from the dock at the north end of Ocracoke Island. Photo: Connie Leinbach
“It’s a hardship beyond belief,” said Gail Hamilton, a village resident, about having to use only the Swan Quarter ferry. “My mother was born here, and I’ve never known them to shut down for more than a day or two.”
Other residents have had to stay overnight in Dare County to keep doctors’ appointments.
Ken DeBarth, a physician’s assistant who works weekends at Urgent Care in Nags Head, said having to take the Swan Quarter ferry has added several extra hours to his commute each way, sometimes forcing him to stay overnight either before or after his gig. Juggling his drive time has been tricky since October as he couldn’t catch the Hatteras ferry at low tide then encountered difficulties at N.C. in northern Rodanthe at high tide.
“But it’s great that they put the extra two boats on at Swan Quarter,” he said.
Brian Samick, a local carpenter, noted that the building supply trucks have arrived.
Sean Death, manager of the Beachcomber Campground and Gas Station, said the Sysco (food) truck has gotten here, and he has given the drivers complimentary food.
“Tommy’s (Hutcherson at the Variety Store) put some up overnight,” Death said.
Celeste Brooks, postmaster at Ocracoke, said the only time the mail hasn’t gotten here was two days two weeks ago and that she asked the ferry to modify its schedule to accommodate the post office’s turn-around.