By Connie Leinbach
An underwater survey of the Hatteras Inlet near Ocracoke shows the sand is too plentiful to be dredged for a shortcut across the long route, Jed Dixon, deputy director of the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division, said yesterday (Aug. 10).
Dixon, who attended the regular monthly meeting on Ocracoke, told the six persons in attendance that the Ferry Division undertook a survey to determine if some time can be shaved from the long rout, which takes about one hour, between Ocracoke and Hatteras.
“It was from these meetings that we decided to determine if there was another channel,” Dixon said.
Dixon showed a graphic of the shoaling, or sand build-up, in the inlet.
“One million cubic yards of sand would have to be taken out,” Dixon said, pointing out the area where they had surveyed.
To give a perspective, he said that a dump truck holds 100 cubic yards of sand.
Detailed results of a study conducted this year on the feasibility of a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke will be released at the public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 in the Ocracoke Community Center.
Dixon also said the division is seeking a grant from the Eastern Federal Land Grant program to help pay for potential infrastructure needed for this venture.
“This is money for transportation on federally owned land,” he said about the grant source.
Such a grant could help cover the costs of tram service, shelters and more, should the Division decided to test passenger ferries.
In 2014, due to extensive shoaling of Hatteras Inlet by Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012), the U.S. Coast Guard and the NCDOT made a longer, natural channel that’s further out into the Pamlico Sound the official route between the islands.
But the longer crossing time has led to increased wait times at the Hatteras dock and disgruntled visitors.
The idea of a passenger ferry from Hatteras directly to Ocracoke village has been around for years, and last year the Ferry Division, commissioned a study to determine feasibility—would it get used, how much would it cost, where would people park.
In a trial run in May of a passenger ferry (the Provincetown III from Massachusetts, which had stopped in North Carolina on its way north so that the ferry division could test it), the travel time from Hatteras to Ocracoke Village was about one hour.
As for long waits at the Hatteras ferry dock for boats to the island, Dixon said that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays continue to be the busiest days, but that the Division in the last month has done pretty well keeping the ferries on schedule.
“We did a big publicity push for people to come early,” he said.
That means folks wanting to visit Ocracoke for the day should get to the ferry by 9 a.m. to avoid a long wait.
However, in the last few weeks there have been people waiting a long time on the Ocracoke side for the return trip to Hatteras, he noted. All late-night visitors have gotten off the island by the last scheduled run, he said.
As for seeking advertisers or sponsors for the ferries, Dixon said the division has not received any bids. He wondered if potential vendors might not have seen the bid announcements, but he said the division will reissue the request for proposals.
Dixon noted that Nick Tennyson, the interim Secretary of Transportation appointed recently when Transportation Secretary Tony Tata abruptly resigned in late July, is already knowledgeable about ferry service.
In addition, the Division would again look at having Internet service (for a fee) on the longer-route ferries (Swan Quarter and Cedar Island), he said.
The next monthly meeting with Ferry Division officials will be at 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, in the Ocracoke Community Center. The public is welcome.
Peter Vankevich contributed to this story.