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By Connie Leinbach
With the awarding of a construction contract, work on building a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke Village will begin in September, N.C. Ferry Division officials announced in June.
The N.C. Dept. of Transportation recently awarded a $4.15 million contract to Armstrong Marine Inc. in Swansboro to construct one 98-passenger catamaran-style ferry.
Ed Timoney, project manager, who with Interim Ferry Division Director Jed Dixon, attended the monthly ferry meeting June 12, said the vessel should be ready by the end of April.
“We couldn’t move forward with two,” Dixon said, noting that the entire project budget, including the new ferry and infrastructure changes, is $9.1 million.
Though this ferry will be powered by jet propulsion (as with jet skis), it will not be high-speed but have a maximum speed of under 30 knots.
Dixon said the Ferry Division is building only one passenger ferry at this time and is exploring whether or not to contract out the operating crew as it might be advantageous to hire crew that has experience with these types of boats.
The passenger ferry would be docked in the Ferry Division shipyard in Manns Harbor off season.
Concurrently, dock modifications at Hatteras and Ocracoke also will begin.
“This is new for us and we totally think we have a valuable project,” Dixon said about the service expected to start next May. “It’ll be good all the way around and there’s a lot of Hyde County support.”
Modifications, according to the National Park plan, include adding a covered shelter at the current Visitors Center site and three bathrooms in the trailer that used to house the beach permit office.
Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl noted that with the dock modifications, five to seven temporary boat slips will be lost and asked if there is a plan to replace them. These slips are like parking meters and are on NPS land.
“It’s their decision to lose the slips,” Dixon said about the NPS modification of the docking area.
Dixon said that as of late June, eight boats are running to and from the islands.
“Our numbers have been better for the last three months,” he said. “We’ve been moving a lot of cars.”
Dredging to widen the south dock basin (at the north end of the island), will continue as soon as Dixon gets the required permits. He also is trying get a permit to add rocks to that area.
Moreover, the Ferry Division has a new problem—the sound at the hairpin turn at the ferry lane is perilously close to the road and the ocean breached the road in a late May storm.
Dixon said they have since dumped a bit of nourishment sand there and he is working on getting a permit to deposit more dredge sand along that section of beach.
“We have to work with the NPS to get a permit,” Dixon said.
A problem for dredging, he said, is the lack of spoil sites within the Hatteras Inlet.
“There aren’t a lot of spoil sites out there,” he said. “The site at the South Dock is reaching capacity and we have to find more sites. It’s not an easy thing to get permits for.”
Dixon reported that UNC Charlotte is doing a cost analysis of the ferry fleet, looking at mid-life rebuilds or replacement.