Ocracoke set to get rental passenger ferry in late May

By on April 15, 2019

By Connie Leinbach

Ocracoke should have a passenger ferry this year starting May 24, thanks to a lawmaker friend in Raleigh.

John A. Torbett (R-Gaston) said Wednesday night that while in budget meetings Tuesday, Secretary  of Transportation James Trogdon said he would pay for leasing a passenger ferry from May 24 to Sept. 22 out of his budget.

“Typically, I’d budget that (in an appropriation) but the secretary said he’d get it done,” Torbett said.

Torbett, who is chair of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee, said the deal has not yet been inked, but he expects it to be done by mid-week. He wasn’t sure if the Senate would have to approve since the money is in Trogden’s budget.

Torbett did not want Ocracoke Island to be forgotten.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “My interest is to get it now for the season. I told them: ‘We owe it to them (Ocracoke). They need something and they deserve something,’ and all my chairs agreed.”

Torbett said the ferry will be leased from Seastreak, a private ferry company operating in the Port of New York and New Jersey and in New England.

The 102-day rental of the 147-seat vessel will cost $867,000, not including fuel, Torbett said.

The propeller-driven boat is a two-deck catamaran-style aluminum boat built in 2005.

He said the Ferry Division met with the owner of Seastreak on March 29 in Hatteras and a test run was done on the route, though Torbett did not know whether it was done with the proposed rental vessel.

Torbett said the Ferry Division also looked into purchasing a used boat.

“And that’s available,” he said. “We’ll keep that in the hunt.”

The DOT is continuing the conversation with US Workboats, which has been building a new passenger ferry, the Ocracoke Express, since 2017.

“If the new one is dead, we might purchase one,” Torbett said.

That aluminum, catamaran-style ferry was scheduled to debut on May 14 and carry up to 98 passengers on a 70-minute trip from Hatteras directly into Ocracoke Village.

The N.C. Dept. of Transportation in 2017 awarded a $4.15 million contract to Armstrong Marine Inc. in Swansboro to build the new boat, but Armstrong is now U.S. Workboats.

Last June, the Ferry Division announced that the new boat was taking longer to build than planned. Citing a lack of welders, the Ferry Division said the boat would not be ready for last year’s tourist season. They suggested it might be ready in the fall, but the fall came and went with no boat.

This year, work on the vessel stopped on Feb. 19 after a report from Elliott Bay Design Group, Seattle, Wash., who designed it, identified “several issues with the construction, among which were many of the aluminum welds. A follow-up Coast Guard inspection confirmed these issues,” said Ferry Division Spokesman Tim Hass in an email.

Torbett said Jed Dixon, Ferry Division deputy director, told his committee several days ago that about 70 percent of the welds failed.

Since then, Hass said, US Workboats submitted a plan for remediation that was approved by both the Coast Guard and NCDOT, and work resumed March 25.

“However, US Workboats has been instructed not to perform any weld work on the hull without the presence of our quality assurance specialist,” Hass said.

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  • OBX Resident

    It would be nice for articles to dig a little deeper for the sake of the general public. If you are building a house there are multiple inspections that one is required to pass prior to continuing with the next phase, and additionally, before additional money is paid. With all of the focus on this passenger ferry, the ‘surprise’ delays, and now the welds, the question is who was managing this project within NCDOT Ferry Division, and how much is this going to cost the tax payers (delays, construction of a sinking ship, and now the rental of a private ferry). Some accountability is warranted, the people of Dare, Hyde and visitors deserve better.

    Monday, Apr 15 @ 1:02 pm
  • KHer

    OBX, I agree. This is now the 2nd ferry debacle the NCDOT has had. Who is watching the helm there?

    If they can actually get this rental up and running by May I will be amazed.

    Tuesday, Apr 16 @ 7:51 am
  • Really?

    @OBX Resident its called no oversight and the state doesn’t really care. “If the new one is dead, we might purchase one,” Torbett said. Tells you all you need to know right there, they will continue to throw money at this lame idea no matter the cost. $8,500 per day rental not counting fuel so basically over $10,000 per DAY to ferry a handful of people to Ocracoke and back. Heck, might as well just throw all that money into the Pamlico Sound and people can just walk across the piles of cash to Ocracoke and never get their feet wet! Lol! I especially love this BS statement; He said the Ferry Division met with the owner of Seastreak on March 29 in Hatteras and a test run was done on the route, though Torbett did not know whether it was done with the proposed rental vessel. Just tell the truth ! Torbett knows good and well they didn’t use the actual rental vessel and statements like that tell you how determined they are to push this forward and think NC citizens are stupid.

    Tuesday, Apr 16 @ 8:25 am
  • Sans

    “question is who was managing this project within NCDOT Ferry Division,” Good question.

    Another project cost that is frequently ignored is how much North Carolina has spent in it own administrative costs. The employees working on the project from first idea to finish. Things like salaries, travel expenses, travel lodging, office space & furnishings, heat/A/C/lights, computers/IT, ink, paper, telephones, attorneys fees, etc, etc.

    Tuesday, Apr 16 @ 12:09 pm
  • Windy Bill

    I am not a fan of NCDOT, but @REALLY? is really taking a shortsighted view of this project. The ferry division already has a daily people count of daily to and from Ocracoke. So what fraction will gladly leave their cars and pay a toll? I think a lot. Your estimate may vary. The future of Ocracoke as a mostly car free destination is a bright as the sun. It has worked very well on other islands, notably Macinac (Michigan).
    The actual vessel to be used did not have to take the route as a test, but DOT as well as the vessel owners needed to verify water depth and ease of navigation on the route.
    Ocracoke is a treasure and we need to regard it as such.

    Tuesday, Apr 16 @ 2:04 pm
  • Really?

    @windybill, I hope you’re right but shortsighted is also thinking that just because it works in Michigan that its going to work here. Other than them both being an island, there’s not much to compare. I’m not saying the actual vessel had to make the trial run, I have a problem with Torbett saying he “didn’t know” if the actual vessel was used. BS!! He knows good and well it wasn’t used so why not just say so? You mean to tell me Torbett is up in Raleigh appropriating money yet doesn’t even know if they used the actual boat? Really? Boy, we have some dim bulbs in charge of the purse strings. I cant believe more people don’t have an issue with the fact that taxpayers have already bought a boat in the stupid Corolla debacle just to scrap the vessel, now the state dim bulbs are ready to scrap ANOTHER vessel in the Ocracoke debacle.. That’s outrageous! I think passenger numbers will be up at first like any new novelty but over time on a 147 passenger vessel I bet they’ll be lucky to get 47 passengers. Time will tell but somebody is acting like its their pet project an are insistent this gets going at ANY cost.

    Wednesday, Apr 17 @ 8:08 am
  • All yall

    I live here and I’ll use it every time instead of having the car or truck. Look a bald head island. The builder of the boat with the inferior welds should pay for the lease of the RENTAL boat, scrap the one started! (Actually who would want to own a bastard boat) even if it was repaired, the history is there!
    So with that being said make the company pay all expenses and maybe only maybe let them start a different hull. Who’d want that one ??

    Monday, Apr 22 @ 9:05 pm
  • Sean

    The only thing the STATE has to do now is make workboat pay all fees involved with this rental. It’s supposed to be in the construction contract.

    Tuesday, Apr 23 @ 6:04 am