By Outer Banks Voice on January 4, 2015
Dare County commissioners voted Monday morning to authorize providing local money for dredging Oregon Inlet.
The Dare County Tourism Board approved a grant of $300,000 last month to help secure matching state funds to contract with the Army Corps of Engineers for a dredge to clear out the latest shoaling blocking the channel under and just east of the navigation span of the Bonner Bridge.
Commissioners requested the grant, and Monday’s vote includes it in the county budget.
Shallow conditions have forced even the smallest boats to risk passing under the bridge where there are no fenders protecting the bridge support pilings. No timetable has been announced for any new dredging projects in Oregon Inlet.
The state has standing memorandums of agreement to pay the funding-strapped Corps of Engineers to dredge the federal channel.
Last month, the Coast Guard assumed authority to restrict inlet boat traffic if conditions threatened the Bonner Bridge.
Tim Cafferty, vice chairman of the tourism board, told commissioners that his panel recognized the emergency in approving the grant. He said continued grant funding would be more difficult.
“It is our understanding that matching funds are available if we start with a $300,000 giving, if you will, the state will come help us here on what is truly a federal problem,” he said.
Oregon Inlet is the only passage to the Atlantic on the northern Outer Banks. Commercial fishing vessels and charter boats can use Hatteras Inlet, which to most is impractical. In addition, Hatteras Inlet is facing its own problems with shifting shoals.
The tourism board is funded by occupancy tax money paid on hotels and vacations rentals. The board provides grant money for projects that would benefit tourism. The Board of Commissioners must approve the grants.
Estimates to keep the channel at the specified 14 feet depths would cost as much as $14 million a year. But federal funding has been reduced to around $1 million.
Depths around the bridge have been less than 3 feet in some areas.