The dredge M/V Merritt is seen dredging Big Foot Slough in the Pamlico Sound. Photo: P. Vankevich

Update Oct. 8. Additional runs for the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes have been added. Click here for the updated schedule.

By Connie Leinbach

If all goes well today, the U.S. Coast Guard will approve the recent dredging of Big Foot Slough in the Pamlico Sound and the three-boat ferry schedule can resume possibly on Thursday.

Hyde County Manager Kris Noble informed the board of commissioners on Monday night that the state sidecaster dredge M/V Merritt did 12 days of dredging and she is awaiting the Coast Guard report.

“It looks like they got to a depth of 10 feet,” she told the commissioners, “but it’s very narrow.”

After dredging finished on Sunday, the Merritt went back to the Ferry Division’s boat yard in Mann’s Harbor.

It is scheduled to return to Ocracoke after Oct. 15 when the new federal funding cycle starts again, she said. At that time, the dredge will work to widen the channel.

The federal allocation for dredging this slough is $500,000, Noble said, which typically is enough for 20 days of dredging broken into two 10- to 12-day dredging operations.

Funding of the $251,666 project was thanks to a partnership between the NC Ferry Division and Carteret County, which supplied the $62,916.50 local match required, along with the state contributing $188,749.50, she said.

Hyde County can thank Carteret County for coming to their aid by supplying the local match required for this most recent dredging, but this cost-sharing irks Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl.

Requiring local governmental entities to supply matching funds is not a fiscal issue but a policy issue and is tantamount to a shake down, he said in an earlier interview.

Big Foot Slough is a federal channel and it’s the Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibility to dredge it, he said, and they’re not doing it.

“And they’re in effect holding Hyde county hostage until we come up with the dough,” he said. “And it’s not a lot of dough. It’s not a whole lot different than a mob underling going door to door to businesses, saying, ‘You know, we think you ought to buy a little protection.’”

In the overall budget the Army Corps of Engineers has for dredging the nations ports, the amount needed for Big Foot and even the Rollinson Channel at Hatteras are less than a pittance, he said.

“This is an increase in federal taxes, is what they’re attempting to do is to increase federal taxes by leaning on local governments and forcing them to cost share,” he said. “Even in the context of Hurricane Dorian in the context of COVID-19, they’re willing to lean on Hyde County in order to advance their policy position that local entities should cost share with the federal government.”

Pahl said our legislators need to know that if they want to raise taxes they should do it.

“They should have the guts to do it. They shouldn’t force the county government to raise taxes for them,” he said.

In the meantime, the Ferry Division is seeking a Federal Lands Access Project (FLAP) grant, which is a pot of money designated for communities adjacent to national parks, to fund permitting of and dredging another slough, called Nine Foot, which is west of Big Foot.

If the county gets a FLAP grant, they will begin the permitting process for this slough because continued dredging of Big Foot is just a band aid anyway.

“It seems every time the wind blows Big Foot shoals in,” Noble said.

Nine Foot is a natural channel and would require less maintenance, she said. Moreover, if the Ferry Division could use this channel for the long ferry routes in the Pamlico Sound, it could shave about 15 minutes off each ride.