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By Connie Leinbach
The passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke will begin May 25 and continue until Sept. 9, Hyde County Manager Kris Noble announced at the Occupancy Tax Board meeting Tuesday night.
Noble was among several groups seeking Occupancy Tax grants and was asking for a grant to help pay for the free trams that will operate in the village during the same time as the passenger ferry.
Tim Hass, N.C. Ferry Division spokesman, said in an interview that for now, the passenger ferry will be leased again from Seastreak out of New Jersey. This is the same company that the Ferry Division has used since the passenger ferry under construction was sidelined because of numerous faulty welds.
However, Hass said that a new company, Waterline Systems, which is in the same building in Hubert that housed US Workboats (formerly known as Armstrong Marine Inc.), the original builder, has resumed building the “Ocracoke Express,” an aluminum-hulled catamaran capable of carrying 124 passengers.
Waterline also has an operation in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.
A search on the web shows that US Workboats is “permanently closed.”
Hass did not know when it would be completed, though possibly this summer. If that happens, the Ferry Division would switch out the leased boat with the new one.
The $4.15 million ferry under construction was expected to begin service between Hatteras and Ocracoke in the spring of 2018 but was still not finished by the season end.
When the boat still was not ready in the spring of 2019, the state rented another catamaran, at a cost of about $1 million, to carry passengers between the two islands from late May until Labor Day.
Ridership on the substitute “Ocracoke Express” in 2019 exceeded expectations. The substitute ferry was put into operation again last year, but passenger numbers were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noble noted in the Occupancy Tax Board meeting Tuesday night that a full season of operation for the passenger ferry has not happened just like it hasn’t for the tram.
As for possible passenger ferry service from Washington, Beaufort County, Hass said this is just an idea—part of a study by the Institute for Transportation Research Education out of NC State.
“It’s a two-year study,” he said. “They’re studying the current passenger ferry routes and possibly others.”