BY CATHERINE KOZAK
Three times in the last seven years, the Rodanthe-Stumpy Point emergency ferry channel has provided the only access for people without boats or planes to go to and from Hatteras Island. But as the height of the hurricane season approaches, that emergency backup is not yet available.
A relatively minor shoaled area of channel at the Rodanthe side cannot be dredged until Dare County completes evaluation and repairs at the nearby material deposit area.
“We’re set to dredge it whenever they get the site prepared,” said Joen Petersen, U.S. Corps of Engineers Chief of Floating Plants.
Petersen said the estimated 150-foot section of channel has about five feet of water. Ferries need a minimum of 5.5 feet.
Ann Daisey, the new administrator of the Dare County Waterways Commission, said that an outfall pipe at the deposit site had been apparently damaged during Hurricane Matthew or another storm. After it is repaired, and the culvert inspected, an evaluation can be done on the capacity of the spoil site.
Daisey said that she is working with an engineer at Albemarle & Associates to determine an estimate for the work.
“My goal is to get it done this month,” she said.
If the deposit site lacks enough capacity for the dredge material, the county will have some older material removed to free up room. Since the spoil area is currently covered in invasive phragmites, Daisey said she would recommend that any removed material be carted off to the landfill.
The emergency ferry service was put into service after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and again in 2013 after the Bonner Bridge was closed due to safety concerns.
But there have been numerous other incidences and close calls where the emergency ferry service was not yet available, or other temporary solutions worked out. In Nov. 2000, for instance, a barge strike on the bridge cut off Hatteras Island from the world for weeks. After Hurricane Isabel destroyed the highway between Hatteras and Frisco
in 2003, ferries were run from Stumpy Point to Hatteras village to bring supplies to villagers.
Then in Nov. 2009, NCDOT established an emergency route on the beach in Rodanthe as a drive-around to washed-out roadway at Mirlo Beach. And in Aug. 2017, power to the island was cut for a week, forcing tourists to evacuate during the busiest part of the year.
A terminal for the emergency ferry service was constructed in 2001 in Rodanthe, off Myrna Peters Road towards the Rodanthe Harbor, and in 2002 in Stumpy Point, off U.S. 264 West, just past the entrance to the village, to provide access to Hatteras Island for emergency vehicles and local residents. Upgraded ramps were installed at both locations in 2013.
A team of scientists at the Coastal Studies Institute on Roanoke Island completed a study last year for NCDOT that analyzed ways to create a new site in Rodanthe Harbor to deposit material from dredging the emergency channel. But for the time being, disposal is still limited to the current area.
Jim Medlock, the Corps’ civil works project manager, said the Corps is working with the county to find an additional site for the material.
Medlock said once Dare County has the spoil site prepared for the Corps, the availability of the dredge Snell will influence when the work in Rodanthe can be done. Currently, the dredge is being repaired at the state shipyard in Manns Harbor, but as a one-of-a-kind vessel, it is in demand throughout the country.
“It’s the only government vessel that has the capacity to dredge and directly dispose of the material via pipeline,” he said.
As far as the Stumpy Point side of the emergency channel, Medlock said that there is currently no funding for any dredging of the federal channel. But so far, the channel doesn’t appear to have shoaling problems.
Lance Winslow, environmental supervisor for the state Ferry Division, said the state portion of the channel – about 1,200 feet – was just dredged by the state dredge last winter. Although the federal channel, which is several miles long, hasn’t been maintained in years, he said, it doesn’t seem to have navigational issues for larger vessels.
“The commercial fishermen, they’re getting out,” Winslow said. “I haven’t heard anybody say anything about it.”