Passenger ferry open meeting on Ocracoke Aug. 31. Photo by P. Vankevich
Passenger ferry open meeting on Ocracoke Aug. 31. Photo by P. Vankevich

By Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach

A public meeting Monday in the Ocracoke Community Center seeking feedback on the feasibility of a passenger ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke Village drew the  curious to see what the possible new service could be like.

Billed as an open forum,  representatives from the North Carolina Ferry Division and the consulting firm Volkert, who is conducting the study, shared their findings on the many  issues involved in adding a passenger ferry not the least of which is uncertain funding in the face of the vagaries of the state Legislature. The Ferry Division is also exploring grants  independent of state funding. 

About 50 locals attended over the two hours of the forum.

Ed Goodwin, Ferry Division director, who attended, said that if a passenger ferry is decided,the earliest implementation of it would be 2017.

Hyde County Transit Director Beverly Paul also attended and provided updates on getting a tram service to shuttle the car-less visitors around the village and to the lifeguard beach.

While ferry officials have said at meetings here during the summer that the study on this possible service would be done by Labor Day, the study is only  at the half-way stage and should be available by the end of the year.

Many islanders have approached the idea of a passenger ferry with curiosity and some caution.

“I’m ready to ride,” said Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, about the idea. “I don’t know if it will work 100 percent, but let’s see it.”

“I want to ride it,” said islander Mike Johnson.

Ernie Westervelt, co-owner of The Cove B&B, said the entire concept needs a lot more thought.

“What if the weather turns bad and they (the passengers) can’t get off the island?” she asked. “There aren’t enough rooms for all of those people.”

One proposed passenger ferry would hold 150 passengers. Another option is using two smaller ferries.

“What if it breaks down?” asked Amy Johnson, owner of the Pirate’s Chest. “Then what?”

Fred Westervelt, co-owner of The Cove with Ernie, said all of those additional visitors “would change the ambiance of the island.”

Below are some visual displays that show what the study is considering and on which it is seeking feedback:

Passenger meeting 1step ps Aug 31 2015-08-31 18.06 (1)

A number of islanders, including Ocracoke Civic and Business Association President Rudy Austin, who also is a retired ferry boat captain, have been vocal in not giving up on reopening the short route that the ferry stopped using at the end of 2013 due to excessive shoaling.

“If we can get the short route restored, this would not be necessary,” said Austin about the passenger ferry idea.

A route taking about 40 minutes and going across the Hatteras Inlet to Ocracoke has been used since the mid-20th century. Following Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, heavy sand buildup (shoaling) in the inlet, made the crossing impossible for ferries to do so without running aground.

The longer route, currently being used and made official by the Coast Guard in 2014, follows a natural channel that  goes into the Pamlico Sound, then to Ocracoke in about an hour’s time.  Due to the longer travel time, fewer boats can cross in any one day.

“The longer route has 10 fewer trips per day,” Austin has said.  That means at least 300 fewer cars with passengers per day traveling to Ocracoke.

Passenger meeting Aug 31 step 2 ps 2015-08-31 18.06 (3)

At this stage of the  study, the slide above shows the high costs to get back to the number of passengers when the short  route was working in 2012 before it was shut down.

Passenger meeting step 3 ps Aug 31 2015-08-31 18.06.34

This display shows the beginnings of some high costs of the project, especially for terminal improvements at the Hatteras ferry and in the village. The passenger ferry types being considered, such as the Provincetown III that stopped briefly here in May, showed these ferries can offer a fun trip.

Passenger meeting step 4 ps Aug 31 2015-08-31 18.35.36

A passenger ferry going all the way to Ocracoke village would take about the same amount of time as the car ferry takes to get to the South Dock (which is the north end ferry terminal and is south of the Hatteras dock). It then would require a bus service to shuttle folks  the roughly 13 miles to the village.

Passenger meeting Aug 31 step 5 ps 2015-08-31 18.06.45

Under consideration are two smaller passenger ferries, rather than a single large one, such as the Provincetown III.  The report at this stage suggests that 25 percent of the visitors to Ocracoke would choose a passenger ferry. Fewer cars coming over would decrease the wait time for vehicles to board the car ferries.

Passenger meeting Visitors center ps Aug 31 2015-08-31 17.44.34

This drawing shows a new passenger ferry center (at right) would be built on Silver Lake harbor and would include two sets of restrooms, ticket sales and  an inside waiting area.

Passenger meeting fees visitors Aug 31 2015-08-31 18.05.52

Here is a proposed schedule for peak tourist season and a tentative $15 round-trip fee for using a passenger ferry.  How long of a season and what would the ferries do off-season are open questions.  Goodwin said they are looking into using them on other routes in the state.

Passenger meeting Aug 31Bill Barlow transit ps 2015

Bill Barlow, who, along with Beverly Paul with the nonprofit, Hyde County Transit, displays a map of the village with official stops in orange dots.  These stops are just preliminary suggestions.

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  1. You lost me at “ticket sales”. Between the similar length of transit, added difficulty or cost of transportation (unless you can take your own bike along for free – that has not been addressed either way in what I’ve read), and less frequent arrivals and departures, I don’t see it. You’re talking $15 per ticket, multiplied by the four members of our family, comes out to $60. $60 plus all the down sides just listed vs. free and a vehicle to travel around with…which do you think I would choose? If it was $15 per family, we might have something to talk about, but wow…that is getting pretty pricey! I love Ocracoke, but if a day trip was to cost us $60, we would probably not bother.

  2. Fifteen dollars a round trip when, if you are willing to wait, you can bring you and your car full of people for free? I know which I would choose. You can already walk on to the ferries and ride and the mainland ferries only charge 1.00 per person one way. It seems that there are more questions than answers.

  3. Bravo Rudy! In too many ways, this seems like simply giving up on the short ferry route. I’d be interested to see how a passenger ferry works out for all, but, to go this way instead of fixing the short route is a bad idea. If we can send men and women into space, we can move some sand! To me, the short ferry route is not a technical issue, but, an economic one. The Corp has abdicated their responsibility to keep the waterways open. We all need to be screaming at our congress critters and president to get them back on the job!

    • I have to agree with Tom,the best way to move people to and from the island is to dredge the old channel so we can use all the infrastructure that is in place now.Just think of what will happen if 150 people get off a passenger only at the same time in Silver Lake and they try to rent a golf cart or bike to tour around the island.Why try to do something different when the old way has worked for many years?

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