By Connie Leinbach
NC Ferry Division officials Monday at the monthly meeting on Ocracoke talked more about the potential for passenger ferry service to the island from Hatteras.
Jed Dixon, deputy ferry division director, who stressed that nothing has been decided, said that the feasibility study being done by Volkert, Inc., is expected to be done in November.
In the meantime, the division is continuing to explore this idea for relieving the traffic awaiting travel to Ocracoke.
To start out, the division is looking into having two 80-passenger boats rather than a single 150-passenger boat.
“It’s a little easier to manage 80 people at a time,” Dixon said. “It’s more realistic, and, funding-wise, better.”
“Two would be more convenient for us,” added Harold Thomas, a deputy director based out of Morehead City, who also attended.
What’s more, with the new Strategic Transportation Initiative under which all transportation needs are weighted and compete against other projects for funding, smaller (and less expensive) passenger ferries would compete better for the $30 million in transportation money in District 1, which includes Ocracoke.
The big piece of the project is the cost of new ferries, Thomas said—$16 million for a new Sound-class ferry vs. $2.5 to $5 million for a passenger ferry.
At the outset, passenger ferries would run only in the high season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Thomas said.
A $7 million grant recently approved for this project from Eastern Federal Lands would include the building of one boat, Dixon said, as well as island infrastructure.
Dixon showed drawings of suggested changes at the Ocracoke harbor area, and noted that the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is interested in joining with the ferry division to construct a larger building on the site of the current Ocracoke Island Visitor Center.
This federal grant also would include purchase of an open-air tram to shuttle visitors around the village. One tram they looked at has two 18-seat sections.
Paying drivers and other maintenance would then be the responsibility of Hyde County Transit, he said.
“The trolleys could be used by all for a good portion of the year,” Dixon said. “Nothing has been written in stone,” he said about any of these ideas.
While Armstrong Marine in Swansboro has approached the ferry division and they are doing research on the construction of passenger ferries, Dixon said, all boat-building would go out for bids.
The ferry division also is looking at different parking scenarios in Hatteras, including long-term parking, and on Ocracoke.
Thomas also suggested that passenger ferries might also be used on the longer routes to Cedar Island and Swan Quarter making those trips much shorter.
As for the continued shoaling of Hatteras Inlet, Dixon said the state can only do what they are authorized to do, which is an area from the Ocracoke side to near the middle of the inlet.
The Army Corps of Engineers, who historically has dredged from outside the Hatteras terminal to the “gorge,” are seeking to dredge in an area of the inlet that’s outside their scope.
“The Corps now has to dredge in an area they haven’t dredged before,” Dixon said, and they have to get environmental permits to do so as well as public comment.
“The inlet has changed so much,” he added. “It’s frustrating for people using it because it’s their road.”
Ann Warner, one of the 8 islanders who attended, suggested that a sign be installed at the south dock—which is at the north end of Ocracoke—noting that there is food and lodging 13 miles down the road.
Dixon said islanders need to talk to Division 1 of the Transportation Department for this.
While these meetings are scheduled for the second Monday of the month, the next meeting will be at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Ocracoke Community Center since Oct. 12, the second Monday, is Columbus Day and a holiday.