By Connie Leinbach
Stevie Wilson has a possible solution to Ocracoke’s danger of losing the north end of the island and the ferry terminal.
The line for the ferry to Hatteras sometimes stretches a half mile down N.C. 12, which is a new normal since the stacking half-circle has been almost obliterated.
Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 and subsequent nor’easters have severely eroded the north end of Ocracoke prompting the National Park Service to float the idea of moving the north end ferry terminal to a mile south of the pony pens.
While that $87 million idea has not been approved by the NCDOT and would be far in the future, if it happened at all, Wilson thinks there is another alternative worth exploring.
He is eying the mainland for an answer.
Wilson is on the Ocracoke Planning Board, which oversees the Ocracoke Development Ordinance (ODO), and has been that board’s chair.
He’s been thinking about Ocracoke’s problems, namely access from Hatteras and also the essential worker housing shortage.
What if we had a passenger ferry go from Ocracoke village to Outfall Canal, which is east of Swan Quarter but a bit closer to Ocracoke?
The distance to the Outfall area is about 15 miles across the Pamlico Sound, a shorter distance than to Swan Quarter, which is about 23 miles, he said.
Back when ferry service began in the 1950s, this site was originally considered for one of the long-route vehicle ferries, Wilson said.
But politics prevailed, and the ferry takes two and three quarters hours to get across the Pamlico Sound from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter, which is the county seat.
Wilson said the push to have the ferry land there was supposed to aid Swan Quarter’s economy.
“But that hasn’t happened,” he noted, as there are few places to stop in Swan Quarter.
A passenger ferry from Ocracoke going 30 knots to the Outfall Canal area would take, maybe, 30 minutes, Wilson said, vs. the 13 knots the large vehicle ferries go.
Workers could live on the mainland, where they could possibly afford homes and even acreage, and commute to the island to work.
Visitors could also take this ferry to Ocracoke for day trips.
“Visitors in Engelhard now are driving to Nags Head,” Wilson said, and Ocracoke, and by extension, Hyde County, is losing out on that visitor spending.
The NCDOT in recent years has floated the idea of a passenger ferry from Ocracoke to (little) Washington, but that would cost double or triple what it could cost to go back and forth to Outfall Canal.
“The Hatteras route at north end is so vulnerable we need to look for other economic avenues,” Wilson said about his idea.
The mainland could be looked at as a way to ease the housing problem on Ocracoke and also help economically since more houses on the mainland would beget more business development.
“It could bring Ocracoke and the mainland closer together,” he said. “We need to start thinking about it.”