CEDAR ISLAND — Carteret County is partnering with Hyde County and the North Carolina Ferry Division to provide local matching funds toward a critical dredging project for the ferry channel between Cedar Island and Ocracoke.
The N.C. Ferry Division announced in July it was temporarily reducing service on Pamlico Sound between Cedar Island, Swan Quarter and Ocracoke due to shoaling issues in Bigfoot Slough, the channel just outside Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Terminal. The latest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study showed water depths in Bigfoot Slough as low as 8 feet.
The low water depth meant the ferry system’s two largest sound-class vessels, the M/V Swan Quarter and the M/V Sea Level, could not safely traverse the area, leading the N.C. Ferry Division to reduce service by one boat per day for each port of departure.
Though Bigfoot Slough is federally maintained and funded, funding to dredge the channel has declined significantly in recent years, and the ACE hasn’t been able to maintain it to a proper depth. Recognizing the critical need for dredging but not having the necessary funds in their own budgets, the N.C. Ferry Division and Hyde County officials reached out to Carteret County for assistance with providing a local match to dredge the channel.
The county agreed to provide the match and is contributing $62,916.50 for the project, covering Hyde County’s share of the costs. In the absence of any federal funds to carry out the project, Hyde County is applying with the N.C. Shallow Draft Navigation Fund to cover the remaining project costs, approximately $188,700.
The Shallow Draft Navigation Fund provides a state share of funds for dredging projects, with the requirement that local governments provide matching funds. The state’s portion of the fund comes from a small percentage of the gas tax, as well as a percentage of boater registration fees.
“We are thankful that Carteret County has stepped up to help in a time when we simply don't have the funding for this project. Our ferries are lifelines to those living in and visiting Ocracoke Island, which is still struggling to rebuild after the devastation of (Hurricane) Dorian,” Hyde County Board of Commissioners’ Chairperson Earl Pugh Jr. said. “We look forward to working with Carteret County and other partners in the future to ensure state and federal funding is made available to keep our channels maintained and to avoid this type of reduction of service again. This is a true example of neighbors helping neighbors for the common good.”
Assistant Carteret County Manager Gene Foxworth said Carteret County will seek reimbursement from the state for its contribution to the dredging project. He said the county will also ask the state to reimburse the Shallow Draft Navigation Fund, since the channel is meant to be federally funded.
The ACE will carry out the dredging, which is expected to begin within a few weeks, according to Mr. Burns. N.C. Ferry Division Communications Officer Tim Hass said once dredging is complete and the new channel depth is verified, the ferry division will resume the daily three-boat schedule that was in place before shoaling became a critical issue.
Officials from Carteret and Hyde counties noted the importance of the ferry route for preserving traffic flow along Highway 12, which is also a critical evacuation route during tropical weather threats. The route is also important to the local economies of the areas it serves.
“Carteret County depends daily on the frequency and access of the State Ferry system. Many of our employers depend on people and supplies to be ferried between these various points every day,” Carteret County Board of Commissioners’ Chairperson Bill Smith said. “It is now more critical than ever to keep our ferry routes open and navigable. Time is of the essence and Carteret County expects in the future for the Federal and State partners to sufficiently plan and pay for emergencies such as this.
“Carteret County has always enjoyed great partnerships with all of our neighboring counties, and this project and many others exemplify the commitment Carteret has steadfastly made to help our neighbors in need,” Mr. Smith continued. “This project is simply about doing the right thing and that's why Carteret made the choice to help out.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.