Hagan: Bill could mean millions for dredging

By on December 19, 2012

Coastal Carolina needs about $30 million to fix its damaged inlets, Hagan said.

Emergency legislation before Congress would provide more than $11 million to dredge clogged channels on the Outer Banks, including Oregon Inlet and the Hatteras ferry route, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said Wednesday.

Of the $1.8 billion in disaster recovery funds set aside for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill, $9 million would go toward dredging at Oregon Inlet and $2 million to clear the ferry channel between Hatteras and Ocracoke, the North Carolina Democrat said.

“What the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill does, it ensures that North Carolina will have adequate funding to keep our inlets open to commercial fishing and the shipping vessels and to ensure that our ferries can navigate our channels and carry residents and visitors on and off the barrier islands,” Hagan said in an interview with the Voice.

In her conversations with the Corps, Hagan said, $6 million was identified for work on the outer channel at Oregon Inlet if the bill passes. Shoaling under the Bonner Bridge navigation span has left the channel virtually impassible. Another $3 million would pay for dredging the inner channels.

Those numbers far exceed the $1.3 million in President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal and are about equal to funding the Corps had received annually before the federal government put shallow-draft inlets on a back burner.

Hagan also said she was told Wednesday that the side-cast dredge Merritt was able to make its way through the navigation span of the bridge at high tide. The corps said last week that dredging would not be possible because depths were as little as 2 feet in that area.

“I think it’s too early to tell whether the inlet’s going to stay deep enough for the Merritt dredge to start dredging, but I think this is obviously welcome news,” she said.

The dredge Merritt, shown last year at the Bonner Bridge navigation span. (Rob Morris)

A Corps survey Monday showed some improvement but depths still at 4 to 6 feet, not enough for oceangoing trawlers requiring at last 8 feet.

Overall, the corps has identified about $30 million in recovery work for the North Carolina coast, Hagan said. Also identified by the Corps for funding were the ferry channel from Ocracoke to Cedar Island, $600,000, and the emergency ferry channel between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point, $150,000.

Money would also go toward work on the Morehead City Harbor, the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, Beaufort Harbor, Wainwright Slough, Carolina Beach Inlet and Lockswood Folly.

The bill includes funding to reimburse states for repairs on damage attributed to Hurricane Sandy, which passed the Outer Banks offshore Oct. 31 and created high surf, wind and rain for almost a week.

State highway crews are still working to get N.C. 12 north of Rodanthe open for traffic. Hagan said the state or local governments might qualify for reimbursement for adding sand to the beach.

The $60.4 billion measure has met with criticism for including funds for projects and programs not related to Hurricane Sandy. A Republican bill proposes about a third of that.

“You’re at the end of the Congress, and there’s always an interest in attaching anything you can to bills that are going through the Capitol Hill station,” Steve Ellis told the Web site Business Insider. He’s the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “This is one of the last trains going through the station.”

According to an analysis by Ellis, the Sandy emergency spending package includes $150 million for fishery disaster areas in Mississippi and Alaska; $20,000 for a new car for the Inspector General of the Justice Department; $10.8 billion for the Federal Transportation Administration; and cancellation of loans related to Hurricane Katrina. It also contains $4 million for repairs at the Kennedy Space Center and $3.3 million for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

Duke University professor emeritus Orrin Pilkey, who has studied coastal processes and engineering for four decades, also raised questions about the bill. He said it gave the Corps of Engineers wide latitude to restore projects to the way they were before the storm.

“This bill gives the Corps of Engineers a virtual free hand in choosing projects without the usual requirements for public participation and the following of current regulations,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Many of the projects in the Corps’ pipeline that this bill will fund are long-term disasters for our beaches and shores.”

Hagan said, however, that based on passage of similar bills after hurricanes Katrina and Irene, she was optimistic of approval by the end of the year. She noted that about 300,000 people had been displaced in New York and New Jersey.

“I think people need to realize that this has had a devastating impact on people who have lost their homes,” she said. “And you know, these are working-class people. These are not second beachfront homes that we’re talking about.”

Coastal Review Online contributed to this story.

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