House Cuts Money for Dredging
The watermen of our northeast coast are no stranger to the dangers and unpredictability of Oregon Inlet. Most locals will even tell you that, after traveling the expansive lengths, crevices, bays, and inlets of the Eastern seaboard, the knuckles are only white upon re-entry to their home port. To add complications to the often marginal conditions, it appears that the N.C. House has darkened the inlet’s future by cutting $2 million from an already-skinny budget for dredging operations.
For years, the battles have raged on how to stabilize and ensure navigational safety in such a dynamic, ever-shifting barrier island system. The construction of jetties was the only talking point on the table from the 1970s onward. While the well-known southern terminal groin was constructed in the early 1990s, the northern side of Oregon Inlet has been left to its own devices and inevitably continued its migration southward. We built a bridge, shored up one side of the inlet, and expected there would always be money for dredging.
After 30 years of debating, talking, designing and re-designing, the idea of jetties on both sides of Oregon Inlet was abruptly killed in 2003 by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Since then, the federal government promised that a navigationally solvent Oregon Inlet would always be available through dredging.
Clearly, that has not been the case. According to a 2002 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Army Corps of Engineers has only been able to maintain the federally required 14-foot depth in Oregon Inlet about 19 percent of the time.
The issue has become more pressing recently. The winter commercial fishing season that typically fuels the seafood industry of Wanchese experienced some of the worst numbers in 2010 and 2011, because of inlet inaccessibility. Though many local groups have advocated for increased state and federal funding for dredging, it appears the inlet may be left high and dry.
Gov. Beverly Perdue included $2 million for Oregon Inlet dredging in the budget she submitted to the legislature, but no money for the inlet appears in the budged approved by the. We see what the N.C. Senate does. It’s expected to release its version of the House budget by Sunday.
And, unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. The Army Corps of Engineers’ current budget for dredging and surveying Oregon Inlet from October 2012 to October 2013 is $1.3 million. While this may seem like a fair amount, it really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. The Corps has said it would need $12-15 million each year to keep Oregon Inlet operational.
If the inlet were to close, the local economy would take a nearly $700 million hit in lost revenue from commercial and recreational fishing and boat building industries. The threat is very clear to local residents, although it seems many politicians and lawmakers have lost sight of the true impact of these numbers.
The federation has always supported adequate dredging to keep Oregon Inlet open and safe. The Senate should reinstate the $2 million for dredging in its version of the budget. Talk to your senator, and get the word out.
-- Ladd Bayliss, coastal advocate