Miss Katie’s public debut is a historic milestone, with a resonating namesake

By on October 15, 2022

(Photo by Don Bowers/Island Free Press)

By Joy Crist | Island Free Press

The Miss Katie made her public debut at a full-day event on October 13 that included tours of the 156-foot-long vessel, capped off by a Christening Ceremony with Senator Richard Burr’s wife, Brooke Burr, breaking the traditional bottle of champagne.

But it was the story behind the Miss Katie’s name that resonated with the crowd of Dare County Commissioners, Miss Katie crewmen, U.S. Coast Guard personnel, Oregon Inlet Task Force members, Dare County Waterways Commission members, and dozens of other attendees who showed up to the Wanchese waterfront to commemorate a local – and national –  milestone.

The Miss Katie Dredge is the first of its kind in the United States.

As Dare County Commissioner and Oregon Inlet Task Force (OITS) Chairman Jim Tobin explained, up until the arrival of the Miss Katie, dredging in Hatteras Inlet, Oregon Inlet, and other local waterways was always dependent on the schedule of the US Corps of Engineers.

“The Corps is overworked,” he said. “They are responsible for dredging from Maine to the Mexican border, so when you realize that, you need to find a better solution.”

Dredging is required to keep the waterways of the Outer Banks open to the U.S. Coast Guard, commercial vessels, charter fishermen, and anyone who considers these channels as their local highways.

Because of the fluctuating availability of the Corps’ four dredges for the Eastern Seaboard, keeping these channels open was always piecemeal business, with no guarantee on when dredging relief would come once excessive shoaling had occurred.

Tobin shared this history in his remarks prior to the Christening, noting a pre-Miss Katie occasion when a $9 million dredging event was obliterated months later. “Literally, within three or four months of the dredging, the channel was almost impassable,” he said. “It was frustrating. And it was almost a $9 million dollar cost.”

In the mid-2010s, an idea started to float, (which many credit to OITS member Harry Schiffman), that the county should buy its own dredge to target areas as needed, without relying on the Corps’ schedule and availability. Multiple trips to Raleigh and conversations with state and U.S. representatives followed, and eventually, the Miss Katie came to fruition, through an innovative source of funds.

“They say the state gave us $15 million to build it, and that’s true,” said Tobin. “But the reality is that the money came from the dredging funds from the state.”

“So, money from when you have boat registration goes into the dredging fund. Money from when you pay for your fuel tax goes into the [fund]… So, actually, the people who helped purchase this vessel are the people who are going to be the recipients of the work that it does. They’re the people who paid for it, which is very innovative.”

The innovation didn’t stop there, either, as Tobin stated. “We went out [and formed] the public-private partnership. It was the first one in the United States,” he said. “There are many, many other people [who are] watching what we did.”

The other side of this public-private partnership is EJE Dredging Service, which is based in Greenville, N.C., and which owns and operates the $15 million dollar dredge.

EJE Vice-President/Managing Partner Jordan Hennessy spoke at length about the hiccups and obstacles that have occurred since the inception of the Miss Katie, but it was the story behind the name that resonated with everyone in the crowd.

On May 13, 2019, 25-year-old Laura “Caitlyn” Whitehurst was shot by her former boyfriend, Christopher Levon Garris, who then shot and killed himself.

Whitehurst, who was a promising nursing assistant and who had just applied to nursing school, was the victim of domestic violence, and awareness of her story has now spread from Pitt County, to Dare County, and to the entire state of North Carolina.

Hennessy shared the details of Katie’s last evening, which included the sound of gunshots that Hennessy heard at the entrance of her community, while he was en route to check on her.

“Later on, it was disclosed and that she was in an abusive relationship,” said Hennessy. “I found out [after] that one out of every four women will actually go through some sort of domestic violence in their lifetime.”

The lone silver lining of the event was the introduction of Caitlyn’s Courage. On June 25, 2020, the North Carolina State Legislature passed House Bill 1023, which earmarked $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds toward the development and implementation of a GPS monitoring program aimed at reducing interaction between domestic violence victims and the accused.

The program alerts both parties when they are in close proximity, either by mistake or intentionally, which means that potential domestic violence victims will always be notified when they are in danger.

EJE Dredging Service’s President is Judson Whitehurst, Caitlyn’s father, and while he didn’t speak at the event, it was clear that all stakeholders admired his efforts to make the Miss Katie dredge come to fruition, and understood the significance of the name.

“It did not go unnoticed to me, (and I’m sure to you), that when Jordan [Hennessy] started talking about Caitlyn, God shined the brightest light on this group, and there’s no question that was a way of letting [Caitlyn] have a clear vision of this beautiful vessel, that I know you’re proud of,” said U.S. Senator Richard Burr, noting the brief period of sunshine that occurred with Hennessy’s remarks.

“We’ve been doing this [dredging] with band-aids, and now we have the opportunity to do it from the ground up,” said Sen. Burr. “But I’m really here to say thank you to all of you, because it’s a community that’s part of the partnership. And it took the community really behind this to make this happen.”

For more information on Caitlyn’s Courage, Click Here.

For more from Island Free Press and a slide show from the event visit islandfreepress.org


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Mary

    How wonderful for our county to own their own dredge instead of depending on the Corps to open the waterways!
    What an honor to Caitlyn to be remembered every time we see Miss Katie and a reminder for us to prevent domestic abuse. This event is truly a milestone!
    On another note…I hope Senator Burr provided the ceremony with delicious pizza from the Nags Head Pizza Company!

    Saturday, Oct 15 @ 1:17 pm
  • Obxn

    The ownership structure of this vessel is unclear. Since the state of NC paid for its construction, how is it that EJE Dredging Service is the “owner and operator” of it?

    Saturday, Oct 15 @ 2:37 pm
  • Roy

    Is this dredge able to provide beach replenishment services?

    Sunday, Oct 16 @ 7:06 am
  • Sean

    I hope she ate at Nags Head Pizza while in town

    Sunday, Oct 16 @ 8:04 am
  • Ben Weber

    Did Mrs. Burr complain about any Pizza Places during her visit?

    Monday, Oct 17 @ 9:38 am