Ocracoke Express docked on Ocracoke July 20, 2023. Photo P. Vankevich

By Connie Leinbach

After having been sidelined since July 7, the Ocracoke Express passenger ferry resumed service July 19, but it will only go until July 31 since funding beyond that is uncertain.

That was the report from Jed Dixon, N.C. Ferry Division deputy director, at the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association (OCBA) meeting Tuesday evening.

Dixon said via computer link in that meeting that after they’d received a part to repair the starboard hydraulic steering pump and the boat passed a Coast Guard inspection, it resumed current schedule of runs between Hatteras and Ocracoke.

The passenger ferry departs from the Hatteras terminal at 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. and from Ocracoke Silver Lake Terminal at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.

A continuing resolution in the N.C. state legislature allows funding while the new budget is still in limbo. Even though the House version of the budget includes $88 million for the Ferry Division and the Senate version includes $70 million, both up from $58 million appropriated last year, the crux of the budget contention is state employee pay raises and Medicaid expansion, according to reports.

“(With that continuing resolution), there’s only sufficient funding to run the passenger ferry until July 31,” Dixon said.

He said they will reevaluate the schedules after the General Assembly adopts a budget.

Bob Chestnut, OCBA chair, told Dixon that over the last five years it looks like there’s been a significant downward trend in the number of runs to Ocracoke.

“I’ve charted May and June, and there’s a reduction in the number of passengers in June by 20% on a five-year average and by 10 % on a year-to-year basis,” he said.  “I’m concerned and a lot of people in the community are concerned that this is a trend, that it’s almost planned. Is that the idea — to reduce the Ocracoke ferry runs and put them somewhere else because we don’t see the same reductions in other runs?”

Dixon said no, that run reductions are based on where they can save money. The Hatteras-Ocracoke route is the division’s most expensive operation.

“That’s largely due to the number of seasonal staffers whereas other runs have fulltime permanent employees,” he said about the Hatteras route expense.

Dixon said he hopes to get the schedule back to where it normally is once a budget is passed.

“It’s my desire to get as many runs as we can there but we’ve got to have the employees to do that,” Dixon said. “If the funding is there, the goal is going to be to fully restore that schedule.”

He suggested that, in the fight for ferry funding, islanders continue to tell Ocracoke’s story to as many in Raleigh as will listen.

“There’s nothing I’d like better than to put all the runs back on,” he said. “I think that would solve everyone’s problems.”

Chestnut said the group was able to deliver personal impact statements to Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday.

Hyde County Manager Kris Noble said Hyde County Lobbyist Bob Steinburg told her a budget is not expected until Labor Day.

“There’s a wide divide on spending requests between the two (legislative) chambers with the House looking to spend significantly more than its Senate colleagues,” she said.

The budget rests with the appropriations chairs in the two chambers.

Noble reached out again on Tuesday to N.C. Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette, since it was a month since she and others had met with him, but she had not heard back from him.

She said that she thought that the top people islanders should try to reach are the House and Senate appropriations committee chairs, the Speaker of the House (Tim Moore) and the Senate Pro Tempore (Phil Berger), and Cooper and Boyette.

“I don’t think we can contact them enough,” she said. Noble also suggested that people copy legislators’ legislative assistants. See lists below.

All legislators contact information can also be found at ncleg.net.

Noble said feedback from Ocracoke business owners has been that the suspension of passenger ferry service has been felt.

“I’ve talked to a bunch of them, and they say it hurts when it’s not running and will hurt again when funding for it stops on July 31,” she said,

She noted that this struggle for funding and reducing ferry runs is “a dangerous long-term trend” for which we have to bring awareness to officials in Raleigh.

She said she thought other coastal counties would be interested in joining with Ocracoke in this advocacy.

“I’ve had other coastal county managers reach out to me to say they’d assist us,” she said.

She said the matching funds for the free tram that typically runs through Labor Day weekend is not tied to passenger ferry funding.

Contact information

Gov. Roy Cooper

Secretary of Transportation J. Eric Boyette
Raleigh, NC 27699-1501
Executive Assistant to the Secretary: Natalie R. Carter

House Speaker Tim Moore
16 West Jones Street, Rm. 2304
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096
Legislative Assistant: Grace Irvin

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger
(919) 733-5708
16 West Jones Street, Rm. 2007
Raleigh, NC 27601
Legislative Assistant: Abbigail Clark

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  1. Does anyone know the current per passenger/trip cost for the passenger ferry, and how does it compare to the auto ferries?

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