The Dare County Board of Commissioners have approved a request to provide the additional funding needed to keep the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredge Merritt working in Hatteras Inlet long enough to break through shoaling in the South Ferry Channel — a move the county says will be a game-changer for local commercial fishermen who rely on a fully open and navigable waterway.
The Corps began a 28-day dredging project within Hatteras Inlet earlier this month in an attempt to break through the shoal that has formed in the South Ferry Channel and rendered the waterway impassable to the vast majority of vessels.
The initial plan for the Hatteras Inlet project called for the Corps’ sidecaster dredge Merritt to cut through the sandbar and, once the channel was deep and wide enough, for the Murden, a shallow-draft hopper dredge, to complete the project by removing the remaining sand from the channel.
However, after four days of dredging, the Merritt had only reached the sandbar that had sealed off the channel, and more time would be required to break through the shoaling so the Murden could be brought in.
At a project update given during the Dare County Waterways Commission meeting on March 8, Corps representative Joen Petersen announced that, despite the Corps’ efforts, considerably less progress than anticipated had been made to break through the sandbar — due in part to the exceptionally low tides that had occurred during the dredging period.
With the Merritt’s allotted time in the waterway limited and options for alternatives running out, the Waterways Commission sought assistance from the Dare County Board of Commissioners in securing the funds necessary to allow the dredge more time to tackle the shoaling issues taking place in the South Ferry Channel.
The board approved the request for funding, making $60,000 available for the project. That contribution—which will be cost-shared with a grant from North Carolina’s Shallow-Draft Channel Navigation and Aquatic Weed Fund—sent a total of $240,000 to the USACE to pay for 12 additional days of desperately needed dredging.
The board’s approval of the funding necessary for the dredge to continue working in Hatteras Inlet for an additional 12 days is crucial for the commercial and recreational fishermen whose vessels’ ability to navigate through the channel has been prevented or hindered significantly by the shoaling.
“If the Dare County Board of Commissioners had not approved funding for the additional dredging, the Murden could have only dredged for eight more days, and that would have not been enough to make the South Ferry Channel deep enough and wide enough to safely navigate for all the users through the summer,” said Dare County Project Manager Brent Johnson.
Dredging of the South Ferry Channel in Hatteras Inlet is expected to be completed the week of April 19.