Letter to the Editor: Hatteras Island watermen need immediate dredging help!

Published 4:46 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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To whom this may concern,

I operate a charter boat on Hatteras Island, NC. Charter and commercial fishing are my sole sources of income. I, like the rest of the Dare County charter boat crews and many other residents, have been put out of work by the recent state and county mandated closures due to COVID-19. However, after waiting almost two months to be able to go back to work and earn a living for our families we now face a new challenge that is keeping us from doing just that.

We have been dealing with a very shallow channel since the beginning of this year. We were having to be extremely cautious while navigating the South Ferry cut. You had to be exactly on your plot line, fifty feet one way or the other could put you aground, possibly endangering your passengers and costing thousands in repairs. I was lucky and only bumped one time, but that was once too many. It was barely passable back then, and has only gotten worse in recent weeks.

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When the Corps of Engineers completed a survey on January 9th, they found sufficient reason to send their dredge the “Merritt” here to help. On the day it was scheduled to arrive it was diverted further down the coast of NC due to another emergency shoaling problem. We were told it would be back by January 23rd. When it finally did come back, it spent more time on another part of the channel and what effort it did spend in the cut where we needed it, the results were negligible at best. It left early before any work was completed due to bad weather, again with the promise to return. It never did, even though we had a nice weather window just one day after they left. Funny how they had time to film a public affairs video about the importance of dredging Oregon Inlet shortly after the time that they had left down here. No video was ever filmed about the importance of dredging Hatteras Inlet to my knowledge.

NCDOT stepped in and agreed to do the required dredging in early March once all permits were approved. That time frame turned from late March to sometime in April. They finally arrived here Saturday May 2nd. However as of yesterday, May 11th, they have not started any dredging due to mechanical issues from their last project.

A couple of years ago, at a Dare County Waterways Commission, the Army COE representative told us that all permits were cleared for the Hatteras Channel to be added to a maintenance schedule to keep our waters safe to navigate. Since that time the dredges have only been here after we’ve had a problem and plenty of boats have sustained anywhere from minor to severe damage. I thought maintenance was done to prevent that from happening. We’ve heard for years that Hatteras Inlet is unique in that we fall under federal authorizations to get anything done. Congress can be slow, but how long do we have to wait till something is done? Apparently, the answer to that is years if not decades.

Cut to current time. Here we sit five days away from being able to resume business and we cannot get out our channel to the ocean. Over five months to get this problem resolved and nothing has been accomplished but lip service. I understand the COVID-19 pandemic threw a lot of obstacles in the way, but this should have been done well ahead of the start of that event. The problem has gone from barely passable to impassable during all this time of inactivity. It was bad enough that we had to risk damage to our vessels and possibly hurting passengers to earn a living all winter, now we do not even have that option anymore. I’ve gone two months with no income and zero help from all the government agencies charged with providing relief to those put out of work. I need to get back to work and can’t, not because of a virus, Mother Nature, or any mechanical problem of my fault, but because of the government’s inability to provide a safe navigable channel. This is not only costing me, but every charter boat in Hatteras Village valuable income that is sorely needed at this time. It will also negatively affect the community at large, if we can’t get out and have to cancel all upcoming charters all the motels will lose reservations, restaurants will have fewer potential customers, and the marinas will not be selling fuel, bait, etc. The USCG is also not able to transit our channel to provide to help to any mariner in distress due to the draft of their lifeboats. This is completely unacceptable to have allowed this to have happened in the first place. It shows the amount of concern Dare County puts into the residents of Hatteras Island. Several boats have already left Hatteras to fish elsewhere till this issue is remedied. We don’t all have that option due to fuel limitations and expenses incurred in relocating.

In March 2015 Oregon Inlet was closed to all traffic, it made headlines and emergency declarations were issued. Within five or six days they had not one, but three dredges either working in their inlet or on their way to assist. Five months of this and we haven’t received a tenth of that attention. We pay the same taxes as the northern beaches and our boats pay the same licensing fees, but we get less return on our money.

We don’t want handouts; we all work hard to make a living down here. We are just asking for the same thing everywhere else seems to get, just a little help and consideration. This is killing our economy and could have long lasting effects on our business. The years this neglect has been allowed to drag out has already turned a once premiere destination during the summer offshore tournaments into a barely noticeable increase in boat traffic due to captains and boat owners not wanting to fish here and possibly damage their boats. If we have to constantly cancel trips, our charters will eventually go elsewhere to fish. We need to get the word out and hope someone is listening. Thank you for any assistance that can be provided to us.

Capt Tom Randall
Longer Days Charters, Hatteras