By Connie Leinbach
For Ocracoke news, click here.
Although the NC Ferry Division has set up the spring ferry schedule, they haven’t released it yet and may include suggestions by Ocracoke islanders to add a run at 10:30 a.m. during the week.
Chris Bock, manager of operations at Hatteras, attended the monthly meeting Monday in the Ocracoke Community Center and discussed ferry operations at length with about eight attendees.
The spring schedule, which typically adds more runs than in the winter, will begin April 11 and run until May 15, he said. Starting May 16 until Oct. 2 will be the summer schedule.
Hyde County Commissioner-elect Tom Pahl urged Bock to reinstate the 10:30 a.m. Hatteras departure.
“There’s nothing better you could do for Ocracoke than to schedule that 10:30 a.m. run,” Amy Srail, owner of the Pirate’s Chest, added. “In the summer, we need seven boats running every 30 minutes. That’s the bottom line.”
Bock said he would try to rework the schedule but would have to cut a run somewhere else in the day.
The scheduling difficulty, he explained, is that the ferry crews are only allowed to work 12-hour shifts, as per Coast Guard regulations.
Bock talked about the recent cancellations of ferry runs between Hatteras due to the state dredge Manteo working in the state-controlled inlet area near the Ocracoke dock. Runs had been canceled
in the last several days because shoaling and low tides sometimes prevented any ferries from crossing at all.
Bock said it’s important for islanders and anyone else coming to the island to be connected on Twitter because that’s the most immediate of the division’s communication resources.
“It would be a good thing for everyone here to have Twitter,” Bock said. For information on the Ferry Division’s Twitter account, click here.
He said they have been doing better about putting alerts out a day before when bad weather is forecast.
He said he and Deputy Ferry Division Jed Dixon will work on better communication among the ferry captains on both ends of the island. He was referring to an incident last week when the wind was blowing about 20 mph and the captain of the Cedar Island ferry decided not to run the early morning trip while all of the other ferries to and from the island did run. He noted that depending on the winds, the trips to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island may be very different.
Although the boats can handle these winds, it may be dangerous if people get out of their cars during a rough ride and fall.
But, to a suggestion that the captain make an announcement to that effect, or the crew members alert passengers, Bock said he would look into it.
Bock noted that buses bringing tours and school children in the spring will not be able to purchase priority passes.
Numerous school districts from around the state send bus loads of children to Ocracoke and the Outer Banks every spring. If they don’t want to wait in line with the rest of the day visitors, Bill Rich, Hyde County manager who attended the meeting, suggested the Ferry Division alert these districts to use the Swan Quarter route.
Bock said the Ferry Division has contacted the bus companies they are familiar with to inform them and also suggest times when buses would not have long waits.
The new state dredge Manteo recently completed dredging a section of the Hatteras inlet closest to Ocracoke, but the area outside of that remains dynamic. The areas in the middle of the inlet, which have the most shoaling, are under federal jurisdiction.
He said islanders interested in getting that section dredged should attend the monthly Coastal Waterways Commission meetings.
“That’s the place to put your concerns out,” he said.
According to a Ferry Division press release Nov. 14, the dredging cleared debris left behind by Hurricane Matthew last month and re-opened a portion of the ferry channel near the Ocracoke South Dock Terminal.
After clearing more than 30,000 cubic yards of sediment in six days of work, ferries resumed their regular schedule.
The dredge was delivered to the Ferry Division earlier this year. Its next job will be routine maintenance of the Cape Fear River channel between Southport and Fort Fisher.
As for the passenger ferry, Bock said he could not comment, but Rich said he heard it was on a fast track.
In June, the state legislature approved funding to activate a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke, including appropriate infrastructure.
For a story on the Monday night meeting in Manteo of the Waterways Commission, see the Island Free Press.