Ed Goodwin, the new director of the NC Ferry Division, likes a good challenge and the ferry system is a just that, he said at a May meeting in Ocracoke with selected business owners and county officials.
A second meeting with Goodwin, open to the community, will be held at 4 p.m. June 9 in the Ocracoke School Gym.
Goodwin most recently served as the Eastern Regional Director in the Office of the Governor. He has served as the chairman of the Chowan County Board of Commissioners and had a 21-year career as a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigation Services (NCIS).
Already Goodwin put a few of the suggestions made by about 20 islanders attending the May meeting into place.
One of those was a change in the way “priority” riders must use the ferries. Priority passes have been issued to island residents and vendors in recent years enabling them to board the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferries ahead of visitors.
Recently, a Ferry Division press release announced that drivers with priority passes would have to be at the ferry dock no later than 15 minutes before departure or they would risk not getting on the ferry. Ferry officials encountered overwhelming rejection of that move at the meeting.
Some at the meeting noted that there seemed to be many out-of-state cars with priority passes.
Some residents asked that signs with “priority” be changed to “residents/vendors.”
Three days after the Ocracoke meeting, the ferry division changed their policy, according to an email from Jed Dixon, and new “residents/ vendors” signs were installed.
“It was very clear from our meeting that the residents are not happy with the 15-minute policy for priority,” Dixon wrote. “We are going to change the policy to read as follows: Priority will be granted to those with passes up to loading commencement.
Once loading has started, priority will no longer be granted for that trip.”
Several islanders at the May meeting talked about the attitudes of ferry workers at the Hatteras dock.
Goodwin said his motto, “Accountability, responsibility and respect,” would be instituted immediately.
As for the continued problems with dredging the short route, several islanders noted that Ocracoke is in the same position as we were last year with ferry problems affecting business.
“Ever since Irene there have been a lot more problems,” Dixon said. “They (the Army Corps and state) have dredged and dredged and dredged. It seems like it closes back up after they finish. We’re constantly fighting Mother Nature in that channel, but there’s not an easy fix.”
The Hatteras Inlet ferry switched May 13 from hourly departures to runs every 30 minutes from both terminals.
Ferries will initially be running the longer, 55-minute route while channel dredging continues, but the Ferry Division expects to switch over to the original 40-minute route within weeks, according to a press release.
“The Army Corps of Engineers had to interrupt its dredging operation in Hatteras Inlet to fix an emergency situation in Oregon Inlet, but once that work is done the dredge will be back,” Goodwin said in the release.
Communicating ferry delays or suspensions was also on the minds of islanders, especially notifications of ferry suspensions on electronic signs located at various points heading to and on the Outer Banks.
Since suspensions and delays can sometimes be temporary, islanders requested that the Ferry Division submit notices that tell motorists delays are possible and a phone number to call.