Editor’s note: This story was corrected 7/14/15 at 10 p.m. as to the procedure for transporting propane on ferries. While ferry officials had said at Monday’s meeting that no passengers were allowed on a ferry when a propane truck is on board, they corrected that statement on Tuesday. The correction is incorporated below.
By Connie Leinbach
Ferry officials on Monday said an update on the passenger ferry feasibility study for Ocracoke may be available at next month’s meeting Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. in the Community Center.
Ed Goodwin, chief of the Ferry Division, said that polling has been done and data results should be available in August. Community meetings about the findings will be in the fall.
Goodwin also said that, should the department decide to test passenger ferries from Hatteras to Ocracoke Village, they would be looking to rent a boat and also to create a public-private partnership.
“One to two passenger ferries would alleviate the pressure (at the Hatteras ferry docks,)” he said.
One snag is that all the potentially available ferries are already leased.
“The decision to build (a ferry) must be made by September,” he added. “We’ll have several critical decision points coming up.”
Some of the consideration for such a venture on the island would be a landing site, places to stage passengers, parking and transportation for the passengers.
However, having a trial passenger ferry next year is “a little slim,” he said, since it takes about eight months to build a new ferry.
Moreover, he said, planning for the ferry division’s future is a 20-year-plan.
As for the long route that’s currently the official route between Hatteras and Ocracoke, Goodwin said an NCDOT survey team was surveying the long route today and tomorrow to determine if some of its length can be shortened to shorten the crossing time.
The surveying is being paid for by some contingency money left over from the $300,000 allocated for the passenger study, said Jed Dixon, deputy Ferry Division director.
Goodwin said a section of the long route has already changed since the last time he rode the ferry in June.
“Some places in the channel are changing,” Dixon added. “Some of the aids to navigation will have to change.”
The Coast Guard, whose job it is to place markers, or aids to navigation, along waterway routes, was in the Sound today moving them, he said.
As for the ferry route from Swan Quarter, Goodwin asked Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, who attended the meeting, if the businesses on the island who sell gasoline could receive the fuel on Tuesdays or Mondays instead of their typical days of Thursdays, since that is a busier passenger day.
That’s because when a fuel truck is on the ferry, only 25 passengers can also be on board, according to Coast Guard rules. Also, when the propane truck gets on the ferry, only 25 passengers in addition to the crew, can be on board, Dixon noted. The propane truck usually gets on the 5:30 a.m. ferry.
As for the Hatteras ferry, Dixon noted that traffic numbers are better this summer than last year, and while the stacking lanes have been full, he thought the longest wait time is probably 90 minutes.
“We’re getting parking lots full,” he said, “but we’re getting them out,” Dixon said.