Corps dredges up $3.2 million for Oregon Inlet

By on August 18, 2011

At risk of shutting down earlier this year for lack of funding, Oregon Inlet will be kept on life support with $3.2 million to keep dredges operating into 2012.

That is about $1 million less than the minimum the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has received in the past but considerably more than the $1 million budgeted by the President for the coming fiscal year, which starts in October.

The total includes the President’s funding plus $2.2 million remaining from the current budget, Roger Bullock, chief of the corps’ navigation branch, told the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission this week.

Up to $1 million of the total will be needed for surveying by a team in Wanchese.

Bullock said the corps is also working on an agreement with the state to put money in reserve if federal funding runs out and a threat arises to the old Bonner Bridge while a new, parallel span is being built.

Officials have said that the goal is to continue adequate dredging until the new bridge is built and passage can be provided in a deeper area on the southern end of the inlet. A natural channel flowing seaward after running parallel to the bridge is up to 30 feet deep or more.

The corps’ heavy duty dredge Currituck is scheduled to work at the inlet in mid-September for two to three weeks. It will try to carve out the encroaching northern spit enough so that trawlers have a straighter shot under the high span at the northern end of the Bonner Bridge during the fall and winter fishing season, Bullock said.

No dredging is planned before then to help stretch limited funding unless conditions warrant it, he said. Bullock said after the commission meeting that running a dredge costs $11,000 to $13,000 a day.

Weather has played a part in keeping the channel at acceptable depths, said Steven Shriver, team leader of the corps’ survey section. (Click here for the latest survey.)

“We’ve had good weather, which has really been helpful for us,” he said.

Earlier this year, encroachment of Bodie Island Spit on the north side of the inlet led the Coast Guard to consider shutting down the channel. As it was, trawlers were forced to move elsewhere during the busy commercial fishing season.

The spit forced a nearly 90-degree jog to get under the bridge’s high-rise span. Concerns increased about risks to the aging bridge from larger boats missing the channel or trying to squeeze through unmarked passages more to the south.

Federal budgeting, Bullock said, has pushed shallow draft, or low use, inlets down the list of priorities for scarce money. Although Oregon Inlet sees plenty of traffic from the charter fishing fleet, private boats, larger commercial vessels and boat builders, it is considered one of these inlets.

With no federal funding for four inlets on the lower Outer Banks, local and state officials are working on agreements to pay the corps to continue maintenance, Bullock said.

When the Currituck was sent to the inlet in April, persistent southwest winds helped to blow sand out of the channel. Later, the smaller dredge Merritt was tied up in Wanchese and the crew was sent to Alabama to help with tornado recovery, Bullock said.

The inlet was reasonably clear, he said, “and I didn’t want to waste money while we had it in decent shape just to be running the boat.”

Previously: Inlet to remain open, but funding crisis looms »

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