By Outer Banks Voice on March 22, 2021
At its March 15 meeting, the Dare County Board of Commissioners approved a $60,000 funding request to help the U.S. to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) dredge Merritt that has been working in Hatteras Inlet to break through shoaling in the South Ferry Channel.
The board’s funding — along with a grant from North Carolina’s Shallow-Draft Channel Navigation and Aquatic Weed Fund — provided $240,000 to the USACE to pay for 12 additional days of desperately needed dredging. That extra time is considered crucial in 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 project would not have been able to accomplish 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, in a release issued on March 22.
According to the release, this project has faced some challenges. The USACE began a 28-day dredging project within Hatteras Inlet earlier in March 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 project called for the 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 was required to break through the shoaling so that the Murden could be brought in.
At a project update during the March 8 Dare County Waterways Commission meeting, USACE representative Joen Petersen announced that 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.
In a brief interview with the Voice, Johnson said there has been a recent hiccup in the project because the Merritt ran aground on March 19, broke its rudder and is now headed for repairs. The hope is, he said, that it will be back in action by the end of this week. Dredging of the South Ferry Channel in Hatteras Inlet is expected to be completed the week of April 19, 2021.