Shoal near Hatteras keeps boats out of ocean, threatening Outer Banks tourism dollars :: WRAL.com
Hatteras, North Carolina – Accumulation of sand below the surface of the water prevents boats from accessing the Atlantic Ocean in the Outer Banks community of Hatteras Island – trapping more than 60 captains inside their marinas.
Boat owners said they’ve already had to cancel dozens of charter fishing trips due to the shoal, and the entire community stands to lose millions in tourism dollars if help doesn’t arrive soon.
While it’s awe-inspiring to see rows of towering charter boats standing in the marina at Hatteras Harbor on the Strait of Pamlico, boat owners say they shouldn’t be here.
“Hatteras Inlet is great,” said Dare County Waterways Commission Chairman Steve Coulter. “It’s just the channel to Hatteras Inlet that’s the problem.”
Coulter said the area for boats to access the ocean has suffered for years from shoaling, which is when sand erodes and moves due to ocean current. The sand builds up and makes the water too shallow to navigate, and in this case blocks Hatteras’ access to the entrance – completely sealing off boats from the Atlantic Ocean.
“You have five, six, 10 roads where you live where you can get to work or you can get home,” Coulter said. “We have one.”
“One road, one canal,” he continued. “We need it. That’s why we are here.
Just two feet deep in some places, Coulter said the water around the entrance has never been so shallow before and their high season is about to begin. He said boats have already had to cancel up to 100 trips in March alone, and that number is expected to “double or triple” in April as seasonal tourism increases.
If the ocean remains inaccessible during their peak months starting in May, Coulter said the more than 60 boats on Hatteras could start losing more than $130,000 a day in total.
“It’s just for the fishing trip. It’s not for home, it’s not for hotel, it’s not for dinner, it’s not for gifts, it’s not for fuel on the road said Coulter. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars, all the time.”
Finding the solution is a bit more complicated. The immediate area around the entrance is maintained by Dare County and the State Department of Transportation, who use their funds to dredge sand and keep the ferry running to Ocracoke.
Coulter said the Hatteras Ferry provides 75% of daily tourist traffic to Ocracoke, and while the ferry route is always traversable, a stoppage due to shoals would also be a severe blow to Ocracoke’s economy.
Nearby is a federal water channel maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers from Wilmington. But because the current problem area around the creek belongs to the state, not the federal government, USACE cannot use federal funds to dredge it.
Currently, the county and state have an agreement that they will donate their funds to USACE to help with dredging around Hatteras Inlet, but it is not the federal entity’s responsibility to clean up the sand.
The USACE is now pushing to have the ferry’s horseshoe path part of the Federal Canal, which would allow them to use their resources to help clear the path to the ocean. But it won’t be an instant fix since all USACE work in the channel area will have to go through an approval and funding allocation process, and the equipment they use for dredging is sent for work on projects from Maine to Texas. .
“Having this road as part of the Federal Canal will make it easier for us to do work and do maintenance dredging in this corridor which is used by mariners,” said Brennan Dooley, USACE draft program manager. “However, that doesn’t guarantee funding and it doesn’t take away all of these other competing priorities that we have there.”
A USACE Wilmington spokesperson said the area around Hatteras Inlet could be incorporated into the Federal Canal as early as mid-April.
But Hatteras fishermen say they are losing money with every passing day, and some have begun to consider selling their boats and leaving the industry if the shoal situation does not improve soon.
“We don’t have two or three months,” Coulter said. “The economy of this village and this island is not two or three months old.”