Officials decry dredging red tape at Environmental Review Commission meeting

By on March 9, 2024

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten outlined bureaucratic hurdles facing the Miss Katie dredge. (Dare County file photo)

Frustration boiled over during public comments at a March 6 Environmental Review Commission meeting (ERC) described as a Presentation to the Dredging Process and Permitting. The meeting was held at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Permitting to dredge Oregon Inlet continues to be plagued by conflicting rules and regulations that some speakers felt had deadly consequences.

Emotions were particularly raw following the death of Charlie Griffin, Captain of Reels of Fortune, when his boat failed to cross the Oregon Inlet bar sometime on the evening of March 3. A second person in the boat, Chad Dunn, has not been found and the Coast Guard suspended the search for him after 41 hours.

Mike Merritt has been a commercial and charter boat captain for more than 50 years and his remarks at the meeting reflected the emotions felt over the loss of Griffin and Dunn.

“I’ve been fishing out of Oregon Inlet for 56 years,” Merritt said. “All this red tape and all the permits cost two of my dearest friends their lives…and not because they’re amateurs…They knew what they had to do.”

Captain Michael Merritt with more than 50 years on local waters, was emotional in remembering Charlie Griffin, Captain of Reels of Tuna,and Chad Dunn who died on Monday at Oregon Inlet. (Photo credit: Kip Tabb/OBV)

Public comments followed a presentation from officials from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and the US Army Corps of Engineers. What those speakers outlined was a process that was complex and, as they admitted, time consuming. Nonetheless, the members of the ERC and those in attendance were told the agencies recognized the need for dredging in North Carolina waters.

“We have amazing navigation channels, not just the deep draft that we have in Wilmington and Morehead City, but all of those shallow draft inlets up and down the coast,” Justin McCorcle, District Council for the Wilmington District Army Corps of Engineers, said in opening remarks. “The shallow draft navigation channels serve as harbors of refuge and highly important areas for recreational and commercial fishermen as well as our tourism industry. We’ve dredged to keep those channels open.”

Jonathan Howell, Moorhead City Regulatory Section Chief for NCDEQ, pointed out that permission for dredging in North Carolina waters require a permit under the regulations of the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA). CAMA permits, he noted, are issued after consulting with all agencies that could be impacted by the dredging.

“The benefits of this process and one of the things that we really like to talk about is [there is] one permit application for all the permits that are required,” he said.

A dredging permit requires coordination among 11 state and federal agencies as well as notification to local governments.

Almost all dredging for navigation is done through U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and it is a system that relies upon federal funds to pay for dredging.

“We maintain navigation channels when Congress gives us the money to do so,” McCorcle said. “If we are not funded in congressional appropriations, we cannot raise that money.”

He went on to say that in the last federal budget cycle, funds had been provided for dredging in North Carolina. When the funding is not available, he added, dredging projects stop. North Carolina, however, has moved to ensure that dredging projects can move forward

“North Carolina is unique…in the level of support that the state legislature and local communities have provided to keep some of these waterways open,” he said.

Dare County is one of those examples. With the state’s help, the county purchased the dredge Miss Katie specifically so it would not have to count on unreliable federal dollars for dredging local waters.

Bu the potential of the dredge has not been realized and Dare County Manager Bobby Outten addressed the issue in public comment. Clearly frustrated, he described a mishmash of regulations that have stymied efforts to keep the county’s waterways safe for navigation.

I’ve been here 40 years and we’ve been fighting the inlet problems for 40 years and we still have problems,” he asserted. Although Outten addressed a number of issues plaguing the permitting process, his ire was particularly focused on what is happening with the Miss Katie.

Permits, which have a five-year lifespan, had been issued for a federal dredging project at Ocracoke Inlet, but the project was never completed because of inadequate funding. The permit was still valid when the county acquired the Miss Kaite, and Outten noted that it is the same size and uses the same equipment that the federal permit authorized.

But Outten said he was told the county had to “start from the beginning and do a whole new process, to get a dredge [permit]” even though the county was proposing to do the same work authorized by the original permit.

After almost 40 minutes of public comment State Senator Bobby Hanig spoke. Noting the 40 years of frustration with the system that Outten cited and the two recent deaths at Oregon Inlet, he said, “We have got to come up with processes that are better and faster and have a little bit of common sense.”

Chair of the Wednesday meeting, Representative Jimmy Dixon (R, District 4), took up the call for common sense, charging his fellow legislators to find a solution.

“Members and colleagues in the House in the Senate, it is on issues on things like this that it is imperative…that we come together, and we can make a difference,” he said.



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  • Freenusa

    Ocracoke bar????

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 12:08 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Our bad. Fixed.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 9:15 pm
  • Just a mom

    30 years ago it was just a 30 min ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke. (45 counting loading and off loading)
    Anyway I recently went to Ocracoke and found it was insane to be headed North when leaving Hatteras.
    Ocracoke, Hatteras and the entire Outerbanks will erode if we don’t put in bulkheads or rock jetties or some other innovative way to entrap and preserve ground.
    I can’t understand how it is so “difficult “ to comprehend… either you do something or it will be gone for future generations. In the Chesapeake there are islands that are almost none existent because sand moves over time from wind and water.
    Rules and preservation and conservation are all important for wildlife, also important for human way of life. Dredge the dang channels and put the spoils on existing land.
    Truth is in time that new land will become habitat for wildlife.
    Nothing is prefect but what is going on now is straight up silly and a detriment sadly to the lost fishermen and many to come.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 12:34 pm
  • OBX Resident

    The NC House and Senate are controlled by the Republican Party, by three-fifths majority necessary to override any vetos. NC’s two (2) US Senators are Republican. In the US Congress NC has 14 representatives; seven (7) who are Republican. All of the Dare County Commissioners are Republican less one. While this is a bipartisan issue, at some point one has to ask if this current and past majority republican leadership is all talk and no action. This was highlighted at the end of 2023 saw the US House of Representatives passing a mere 27 pieces of legislation—the lowest such output in nearly a century. It is time to look in the mirror to discover why no solution has been gained in 40 plus years.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 3:55 pm
  • Just a mom

    Obx resident,
    If this is true I agree with your point.
    I hope something changes where people start doing their jobs.., which is to work on behalf of their constituents. Work harder and stop trying to satisfy all the small loud groups. As someone else said in the meeting ‘common sense’ is necessary at some point. Make decisions that make sense even if it ain’t “trending “.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 4:52 pm
  • charlie

    The inlets are there..The inlets have to be dredged….There are such things as open ended contracts.. There should be open ended dredging contracts.. . The CAMA Act has to be followed but the legislature can amend the CAMA ACT any time it wants to…. So OBX Resident has a point.. All of our representatives and the NC legislature are controlled by one party.. Those people should get off their rear ends and do something………..NOW….

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 5:07 pm
  • USA Resident

    OBX Resident, all politicians are all talk and no walk. Would you rather have the other side in complete control with all their wacky ideas? Run for office and stop complaining if you think you can do better.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 5:24 pm
  • Carter McKay

    After 40 years, I’d say most, if not all on both sides of the political aisle are much like a Christmas turkey; they’re all full of
    crap and 40 years of double talk proves it.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 8:47 pm
  • OBX Resident

    @USA Resident: Wacky creative ideas often result in out of the box solutions. Also, I am not complaining; just stating facts. If you believe ‘all politicians are all talk and no walk’ then maybe you should change who you are voting for.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 10:02 pm
  • another mom

    dredge Oregon inlet and put the sand on the beach in Pea Island.

    dredge Hatteras inlet and put the sand on the south point and Ocracoke near the ferry dock.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 10:06 pm
  • OBX Observeration

    Absolutely the inlet needs to be dredged now. But the real story here is “Why were the County politicians and officials so dumb to buy a dredge and not realize they have to obtain a permit to operate it?”. Oh, but these are the same people behind the affordable housing fiasco. And let’s not forget these were the same bureaucrats and officials forcing the Covid Tyranny that costs Dare County legal settlement. Hopefully the 2024 upcoming elections will yield some new leadership and the addition of some common sense.

    Saturday, Mar 9 @ 10:29 pm
  • Pearl

    Greed. That is what caused these gentlemens death. You took taxpayer money and build a dredge and gave it to individuals. These individuals did not have the knowledge to get the correct permits. So they blame regulations. The wealthy again take and take and never have enough at the expense of the working man.
    This time they took more than our money they took lives.

    Sunday, Mar 10 @ 8:47 am
  • HAWK

    Why not just form another Task Force ? Then we are assured nothing will get done.
    There are jetties from Maine to Miami, but the wackos have held Oregon Inlet off limits
    to jetties for over 50 years.

    Sunday, Mar 10 @ 9:04 am
  • Al L.

    It all started with Sen. Basnight enacting state legislation that prohibits any further structures being built perpendicular to the beaches in North Carolina. (Notice he did this after obtaining a permit to build his Jennettes Pier). If a jetty was built at the inlet (like every other inlet on the east coast from Main to Florida) you would not have all the issues your having now. You’re spending millions and millions of dollars every year trying to keep the inlet open when you can fix it once and be done. Build the jetty and let’s end this childish nonsense and wasteful spending. If you won’t, quit your job and let somebody else do it to save Dare County and somebody’s life.

    Sunday, Mar 10 @ 10:43 am
  • Al L.

    Even the Colington Harbor Inlet has a jetty.

    Sunday, Mar 10 @ 11:11 am
  • Bev

    People should educate themselves before speaking out about Oregon Inlet. The Federal Government took over OI and “promised” to keep it open and navigable. As we all know, the Feds seldom keep their word.
    There are not enough dredges available to keep all of the East Coast (not just NC) dredged. The Army Corp determines which waterways gets the assets. They have a formula to determine the scores and the waterway with the highest score gets the asset.
    Permitting is typical Federal RED TAPE. The Miss Katie was given the okay to use the Army Corp Permit while they are working our getting our own permit. Educate yourself Pearl.
    It’s very difficult to explain dredging, permitting, and jetties. It is an Encyclopedia in itself.
    The whole process involves Local Government, State Government, and the Federal Government…Rarely IF EVER…are these entities on the same page.
    Let’s not forget that our Friends that are against Dredging and or Jetties will be taking all three government agencies to court to stop all of the permits.
    The inlet is not a State priority. They are NOT a fishermen’s friend.
    i find it interesting that so many have an opinion and yet hardly any of you step forward to go to the meetings and get involved. This is NOT a new situation. This have been going on for YEARS.
    To all of you Keyboard Warriors, get our from behind your computer and actually do something productive.

    Monday, Mar 11 @ 3:11 pm
  • Pearl

    Bev , you are insinuating we are uneducated? No we just have ethics. We do not take tax payers moneys and build boats to give to private individuals. I noticed you slipped up and referred to it as OUR boat. This is about lost lives due to ignorance about the permitting process. I hope you donated all of your gains to the families of those lost.

    Monday, Mar 11 @ 6:15 pm
  • Just a mom

    We all agree with your elaborate explanation of the why it doesn’t get done.
    And as for sitting back and writing on this site, perhaps it isn’t done for anything but to let the powers that be know that there are many of us who say cut the tape and get to changing ridiculous unending rules that aren’t advantageous for humans living in this environment.
    Also Bev we do take action, us people, in different battles in our lives. We must pick and choose and it seems a lot of us choose your side,and yet you scorn us for only giving you verbal support.
    I hope change comes for this topic you hold dear and close to your heart, as well as for many other issues our country faces. Less bureaucracy and more common applications would do us all good.

    Monday, Mar 11 @ 8:31 pm
  • Bev

    Thank you @JustAMom. it is very difficult these days. We all have priorities and all are important. It is hard to listen to folks that have no idea how difficult this situation is and the nuances of the process to rectify a problem that was created over 50 years ago.
    The Miss Katie belongs to everyone: Dare County and the citizens of NC. This dredge is going to save lives. The Army Corp has very limited sources and this was one way to help all of our inlets.
    The real and only issue is SAFE and Navigable Waterways for ALL.

    Tuesday, Mar 12 @ 10:34 am
  • Pearl

    A dredge was built with tax payer money and a forgivable loan to a company with little dredging experience and no current dredging operations over experienced dredging companies. When they had no idea how to get the paperwork done. They blame the government. Sometimes behind closed doors deals with a wink and a handshake turn into a mess. A big sandy mess and the working man pays the consequences. Loss of life and livelihood. Fisherman deal with permits and changing rules on a seasonal basis. They may find it cumbersome but they get it done.

    Tuesday, Mar 12 @ 3:21 pm