The sidecaster dredge Merritt. Photo: Donna Barrett

Reprinted from the Island Free Press

It’s deja vu all over again for Hatteras Inlet’s South Ferry Channel, much to the chagrin of the Dare County Waterways Commission.

With a recent survey of the channel posted online during Monday’s remote meeting, Commission Chairman Steve “Creature” Coulter pointed to the red blotch – indicating shallow water – on the west end of the channel.

“As everybody can see, we still have a problem here,” he said. “We’re still setting in exactly the same spot we were setting in (back) in October.”

A pileup of mechanical mishaps with dredges and tugs last month once again has left in place the irksome lump of sand in the channel that was supposed to have been dredged last fall.

Since the initial glitch in October with a missing agreement, numerous difficulties with timing and weather have conspired to delay the project.

Although the inlet is currently navigable, except at low tide, Coulter said, the shoaling in South Ferry Channel has discouraged some out-of-town boaters and hindered access for the Coast Guard’s 47-foot vessel.

“In the last month, Hatteras village and Dare County, have lost a lot of money,” he said, referring to lost business from fishing tournaments.

In a later interview, Coulter said that the dredge Manteo, owned by the state Department of Transportation, had gotten right up to the bad spot when work stopped. First, the priming pump on the 4-year-old dredge had gone bad, and the new pump turned out to need a flange that has to be fabricated. Next, the sanitation system pump stopped working. Then the dredge pipe broke.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps’ dredge Merritt needed a new generator, and is currently being repaired in Virginia Beach.

“It was a comedy of errors,” Coulter said.

Speaking during the Google Meet, Joen Petersen, the Corps’ chief of floating plant, said that he thinks he’ll be able to get the Merritt to help out next week, although it won’t be easy.

“We’ve been looking at this survey pretty hard,” he told commissioners, referring to the shoaled area in South Ferry Channel. “It’s a challenge.”

The channel is authorized at 12 feet deep, 200 feet wide, although it is usually dredged closer to 10 feet. The shallow spot has only about five feet of water.

Considering the tides, Petersen said he expects he’ll be able to start on July 23 and work for 24 days.

“We’re not going to be able to get 10 hours of dredging a day,” he said. “If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to get eight hours a day.”

Whatever work Petersen can do, Coulter said later, he has trust in his expertise.

“We put a lot of hope in the DOT dredge being able to do it, but they have not,” he said. “Now we’re putting a lot of faith in the Army Corps. “

Brent Johnson, Dare County Project Manager and Waterways Commission administrator, said in later interview that up to four surveys will be done in the channel  – one before the project starts, one or two during, and one after.

In an update on another issue, Johnson said that a recent in-and-out trip with a ferry along the Stumpy Point emergency ferry channel was all clear, and a similar run along the Rodanthe end is expected to be done this Saturday. The channel is a vital backup route in case access on N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island is blocked during a hurricane or another emergency.

Johnson also warned the commission that of the $35 million that was in the state’s Shallow Draft Navigational Fund, about $19 million has been taken out to pay for storm damage and mitigation projects elsewhere in the state.

The fund, established to help communities pay for waterways maintenance projects, is important in providing funds for Dare County’s dredging projects.

“It’s a big thing to keep an eye on,” he told members.

The next Waterways Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Fessenden Center in Buxton. Based on the situation with COVID-19 risks, it may again be held online at Google Meet.

This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast.