By Connie Leinbach
The Hatteras Ferry terminal has a new supervisor, Chris Bock, overseeing the Hatteras Inlet operations and its 140 workers.
Bock, along with several NC DOT Ferry Division officials, attended a two-hour meeting with Ocracoke residents Oct. 20 in the United Methodist Church rec hall.
In an interview after the meeting, he said he’d be happy to visit Ocracoke any time to meet with residents and encouraged anyone with concerns or suggestions for improvement to talk to him.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “I can make this a better place.”
Bock’s number is 252-986-2353.
At the meeting, Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin talked about the idea of starting a passenger-only ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Village, in addition to car ferries.
This issue which over the years has been discussed with no action taken, is now getting serious attention. This is because in June, the U.S. Coast Guard made the long route—the Barney Slough—an official alternate route. That makes the crossing time to Ocracoke about one hour instead of the 30 minutes that the short route took across the Hatteras Inlet.
“The DOT has a congestion problem getting people from Hatteras to Ocracoke,” Goodwin said, adding that while they haven’t abandoned the short route a quick and easy solution to restoring it is not in sight.
Dredging by the state has only helped the state portion of the short route—on the Ocracoke side. The federal Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the area of “the gorge” to the Hatteras docks, and this is the half of the waterway where continued shoaling occurs.
“They spent $8 million last year on dredging and it lasted three months,” Goodwin said.
Jed Dixon, deputy director, showed a slide depicting the dramatic erosion of the southern tip of Hatteras, which is letting the sand into the short route.
“That end of the island protected the inlet,” Dixon said. Now that protection is gone.
Among the concerns of the approximately 20 residents who attended was the suitability of the ferries using the long route which are intended for use in the short route.
Another was the difference in cost for the state to run seven ferries (up from five in the short route) in the long route.
“It costs $8,000 a day more,” Goodwin said. Of the seven ferry routes in the system, the Hatteras-Ocracoke route is the only one that needs constant dredging.
As for the feasibility study, Goodwin said a bid contract will be put out in a couple of months and the study will take a year.
“The study will help us decide the best way to go,” he said.
“Knowing why tourists are coming here will help solve the problem,” noted George Chamberlain, owner of Captain’s Landing.
Goodwin stressed that nothing has been decided.
“We’re not trying to ram this down anyone’s throat,” Goodwin said. “We will look at the cultural and economic aspects of this study, and we will need your input.”
He said The cost of a passenger-only boat is less than half the cost of a car ferry.
Moreover, there are better designed ferry boats available, such as ones that can run in shallower water, Dixon noted.
Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, noted that there are boats out there that can carry 125 people and traverse the distance in 18 minutes.
If passenger ferries are ultimately in the mix of options, a transit system from the village to the north end of the island will have to be in place, said Bill Rich, Hyde County manager.
Beverly Paul, director of Hyde County Transit, a nonprofit organization, attended the meeting and said she is already applying for extra vehicles to be in place by 2017.
The next meeting will be at 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10, in the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department meeting room. Organized by Rich, the ferry officials have been coming to Ocracoke since early summer to hear concerns about the various ferry routes and operations to Ocracoke.
By Connie Leinbach