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Dare commissioners say no to dumping bridge demolition debris off Carteret County

The Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution July 6 strongly opposing a North Carolina Department of Transportation request to dump Bonner Bridge debris offshore of Carteret County.

The state’s transportation agency is looking for a way to finish demolishing the old bridge. The contract calls for dumping the acceptable debris on four artificial reefs off the Dare County coastline. Three reefs northeast of Oregon Inlet – ARs 130, 140 and 145 – are in federal waters. Each reef of these reefs is to receive 15% of the demolished bridge. AR 160 is south of the inlet and slated to receive 55% of the demolition material.

However, a barge filled with debris and pulled by a tug cannot get over the bar at Oregon Inlet. Commissioner Jim Tobin said a seven-foot spot at the bar stops the operation.

Since Dec. 21, 2019, some 18 barges have been deployed over the four sites. Only two of those barges made it through Oregon Inlet.

The 16 remaining loads went one of two routes: north along the Intracoastal Waterway to Norfolk and back down the coast to the permitted reef sites. The route is 200 miles one way. This route is used by smaller barges because of the locks and bridges along the route.

The south route follows Pamlico Sound to Morehead City and back up the coast, which is 220 miles one way. This route is used by larger barges and when materials overhang.

NCDOT is proposing to use AR 320 for the Bonner Bridge material. The reef site is off Carteret County and is already permitted to accept bridge demolition material.

NCDOT estimates that 25 to 32 more barge loads – about 29,000 tons – are required to finish the Bonner Bridge demolition. To take the north or south long routes is estimated to cost $5 million more in additional costs to be borne by NCDOT. Getting permission to drop the bridge material off Carteret County cuts the price in half, reports Pablo Hernandez, NCDOT’s resident engineer in Dare County.

Dare’s commissioners were adamant. The disposal sites were identified and agreed to the community. The resolution states “maintenance of the only four artificial reefs off Dare County shores has been lacking for many years.”

The Artificial Reef Guide, published by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, confirms that statement:

– Materials for AR130 were placed initially in 1986, added to in 1991 and 2000.

– Materials for AR140 were placed initially in 1986, added to in 1989 and 1998,

– Materials for AR145 were placed initially in 1987, added to in 1991, 1994, 1998, 2005 and 2006.

– Materials for AR160 were placed initially in 1974 and added to in 1978, 1999, 2000 and 2002.

In discussion, commissioner Danny Couch said “let’s not change course.”

As to dredging, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Merritt left Oregon Inlet July 6 and is now at Rudee Inlet. The Corps dredge Currituck is in New England. The Murden is in a Texas shipyard, a stop which was scheduled for 90 days, but has stretched to 200 days.

At the board meeting, commissioner Rob Ross said about dredging alternatives “there is no near term solution.”

PCL Civil Constructors has the contract to physically demolish the old Oregon Inlet bridge. PCL hires Intercoastal Marine to provide tug boats when needed. The provided tugs are shallow draft, drawing between 7.5 to 9 feet. Smaller tugs drawing six feet don’t have the horsepower to manage the barges and may run afoul of regulations if used.

For Dare County and permitting agencies, the deadline for commenting is July 21, 2020.

The NCDOT permit modification request also includes moving mooring pilings or breasting lines that are east of the Oregon Inlet bridge and at the south end. The area in the vicinity of the old Coast Guard basin is filling in. NCDOT is concerned about PCL’s crane and wants to establish a mooring site closer to deep water. The crane cannot go under the new bridge and it takes a day and a half to prepare the crane to go that route.

The last item on this special meeting agenda was a request by the Dare County Tourism Board to approve spending up to $25,000 from the Tourism Board’s short term restricted fund for traffic control for off-duty and overtime officers at US 158 and Ocean Blvd. intersection during the 2020 peak summer months. The board approved the request unanimously.

Tobin told the board that members (in protective gear) of the Nursing Home Community Advisory Council will be permitted to enter the facilities in Dare County for inspection.

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