OCRACOKE ISLAND, HYDE COUNTY - North Carolina will pay about $1 million extra this year to provide ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands since a longer route must be used because continued shoaling makes the traditional route unsafe, state officials said.
Officials with the N.C. Ferry Division told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that the new route costs $9 million compared to $8.1 million for the traditional route. "We're not budgeted for the longer route," said Jed Dixon, deputy director of the Ferry Division.
The alternate trip is more than 3 miles farther and takes an hour rather than 40 minutes on the traditional one. Ferries have used the longer, 7.7-mile route since December.
The Ferry Division operates six vessels carrying about 9,000 vehicles a week from 5 a.m. to midnight.
Hatteras Inlet has continued to widen since 2003, when Hurricane Isabel struck. The Atlantic Ocean pounds through the wider breach, pushing sand into the traditional channel as fast as dredges can remove it, Dixon said.
"It's made running ferries across the inlet pretty tough," he said. "People tell me it's the widest they've ever seen it."
Permits call for the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel to be kept at 100 feet wide and 14 feet deep. The state plans to request that the ferry route be widened to 250 feet, said Tim Haas, spokesman for the Ferry Division.
"A 100-foot channel just isn't good enough anymore," he said. "What's happened to the south end of Hatteras Island is a disaster."
The 45-foot-wide ferries are barely able to pass in the 100-foot wide channel, he said. It only takes a minimal amount of shoaling to make the traditional route unsafe, he said, adding that dredging would be less frequent if the channel were wider.
Officials with the Ferry Division and the Army Corps of Engineers plan to meet next month to discuss a new permit allowing 250 feet, said Donnie Potter, chief of physical support with the corps in Wilmington. He said he supports the widening if it is feasible.
Almost 1 million people per year cross the inlet between Hatteras and Ocracoke, the most of any of the state's seven ferries.