By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke Islanders are concerned about uncertainties this spring and summer with the passenger ferry and the vehicle ferries.
An official start date for passenger ferry service this year has not been announced, said Jamie Kritzer, assistant director of communications for NCDOT, in an email. It was due to begin runs between Hatteras and Ocracoke Village on May 16.
That delay is because of a $1.6 million shortfall in the NCDOT’s fuel fund, noted Ocracoke’s County Commissioner Randal Mathews in a Facebook post and who has sent letters to the island’s state representatives about the concerns.
Kritzer did not have a lot of answers, but said, “We continue to work with the General Assembly to address the higher-than-expected fuel costs that could impact the passenger ferry service’s start.”
Kritzer said the Ferry Division is evaluating its current fiscal year and looking at cost-saving measures to make up a projected deficit owing to higher-than-projected fuel costs.
All ferries to Ocracoke could be impacted.
“Some of the cost saving measures that we are implementing will be delaying the start of our spring and summer schedules in Hatteras and on the Pamlico Sound routes, reducing runs on the vessels to help with fuel consumption and delaying the start of our passenger ferry service,” he said. “These are necessary steps that must be taken to help ensure we operate within our appropriations.”
The Observer contacted State Senator Norman Sanderson (R-District 1), and his legislative assistant Diane Cook said she would pass on our inquiry to Sanderson.
Messages were left with Rep. Kidwell (R-District 79), whose district covers Ocracoke, and Sen. Bobby Hanig (R-District 3), who formerly represented Ocracoke as its representative in the last General Assembly session. The Observer will provide updates when they respond.
Rumors have flown around the island in the last few days that the ferry runs between Hatteras and Ocracoke would be further curtailed in July, but Ferry Division spokesman Tim Hass said in an email on Thursday that “no schedule changes are set to go into effect for now.”
He did not answer a series of questions posed by the Observer, to wit: How much was in the fuel fund and when did it/or will it run out? How much is the Ferry Division asking for in the next budget?
He said more information would be forthcoming later.
Mathews, in his letter to legislators that he shared on Facebook, said the Hatteras Island route carries more than 70% of the traffic to Ocracoke Island, which includes our vendors, day trippers, and residents who have medical issues.
“Hyde County EMS based on Ocracoke is experiencing eight-hour transportation round trips to accommodate patients,” he said. “Local businesses have seen a 20% decrease in revenues this year which affects the Ocracoke and Hyde County revenues.”
Kritzer noted that the Ferry Division’s 2023 fiscal year budget was $58.5 million. The NCDOT overall budget is $5 billion.
According to information from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, total spending by domestic and international visitors in North Carolina reached $33.3 billion in 2022.
That sum represents a 15.2 percent increase over 2021 expenditures. The figure falls 14 percent above the record $29.22 billion spent in 2019.
Contact information for Rep. Kidwell can be found here.
Contact information for Sen. Sanderson can be found here.
Correction: A start date for passenger ferry service has not yet been announced, and is not “on indefinite hold,” as was paraphrased in an earlier version.