By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry runs resumed Saturday afternoon after having been suspended in the morning due to a grounded barge blocking the ferry channel, according to Ocracoke’s county commissioner Randal Mathews.
Mathews said a tug pulling a barge ran aground in the Sloop Channel, which is in the northwest area of the ferry channel in the Hatteras Inlet. Then a morning ferry got hung up in that area. An islander was on that ferry headed to the hospital and got off the stranded ferry via the U.S. Coast Guard, according to reports, and one of the island ambulances was stranded in Hatteras for several hours while ferry operations were suspended.
All of this happened on one of the busiest weekends for Ocracoke.
Mathews said he spoke with Jed Dixon, deputy Ferry Division director, who reported that all of the boats have been freed and ferry runs resumed at 2:30 p.m.
Also, Mathews said, the side caster dredge Merritt is now working in the slough.
“The Merritt has gone to work today,” he said. “We’ve been raising hell about this for weeks with the Dare County Waterways Commission. Steve Coulter, the commission’s chair, has called me five or six times. I’ve written letters to every senator and Congressman federal level.”
Mathews said the inlet needs a contracting company hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a big pipeline dredging project in the Sloop Channel.
But the process of getting dredging done is a convoluted process as several agencies have jurisdiction over different parts of the inlet and ferry channel.
Dredging anywhere requires a federal permit, Mathews said, and Sloop Channel – the area where the boats have grounded — has not been designated as a federal channel.
“The Army Corps is saying it’s not theirs,” Mathews said. That little section of the ferry channel happens to be under NCDOT jurisdiction. “If the NCDOT would just tell the feds to go in there and dredge…”
Mathews, who attends the Dare County Waterways Commission meetings, said he asked a year ago for a pipeline dredge for the Sloop Channel, and the ACE representative said they would need three times the money for that.
In related news, the Ocracoke Waterways Commission will resume its meetings at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the Ocracoke Community Center
The Swan Quarter and Cedar Island routes to and from Ocracoke Island are running as scheduled and are booked solid.
The public can stay updated on ferry operations and when they resume via Twitter at https://twitter.com/NCFerryHatteras or via the NCDOT’s travel and road conditions website, https://drivenc.gov.