Posted on November 13, 2023
The long-planned and much needed dredging of Barden Inlet – partly in the Cape Lookout National Seashore and partly outside it – appears to be moving closer to fruition.
Although CLNS Superintendent Jeff West said Monday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a bid for the project, Carteret County Shore Protection Office Manager Ryan Davenport said Monday there’s still some work to do.
“We understand that there’s significant interest and anticipation regarding the Back Sound to Lookout Bight/Barden’s Inlet dredging project,” he said. “At this time we’re in the process of finalizing the details, and while significant progress has been made, we have not reached a point where we can confirm any contracts or provide a start date. We understand the importance of this project, and we will keep the public updated as soon as there are concrete developments to share.”
The low and winning bid for the work was about $6.8 million, about $1.4 million higher than the county’s estimate, according to the corps’ bid abstract.
The inlet is a crucial passageway for Down East watermen, commercial and recreational, and the project has been in the works for years. The last full dredging of Barden Inlet was in 1977-78, and watermen have complained for years about shoaling and increasingly difficult navigation in the area.
Nov. 1 was the earliest dredging could start because of federal laws protecting sea turtle and nesting birds. It must be completed in April, for the same reasons.
“It’s been a major effort to get to this point,” West said. Still, he said, “I’ll believe it’s happening when I see a dredge in the water. It has involved a lot of agencies and a lot of people. I have to give the corps a lot of credit for sticking with it and working through the problems.”
The work includes dredging of Army Corps of Engineers and National Park Service navigation channels within Back Sound and Lookout Bight.
According to the document corps submitted for bids from potential contractors, “The work will consist of removal and disposal of shoaled material that has accumulated in the channel since they were last dredged. Dredging of the channels shall be performed by cutter suction/pipeline. The dredging depth is 7 feet plus 2 feet of allowable over-depth.
”Disposal of dredged material for Federal Navigation Channel to Back Sound shall be placed on “Sandbag Island.” Disposal of dredged material for Federal Navigation Channel to Lookout Bight and National Park Service Lighthouse Channel shall be placed on Lighthouse Beach.”
The beach around the culturally and historically significant Cape Lookout Lighthouse has been eroding badly for years, and through a voluntary fundraising effort by the Save Cape Lookout Foundation, a wave attenuator system – a series of linear devices that slow waves and reduce their energy in order to help reduce erosion of shorelines – was put in place in March near the lighthouse this year. They were intended as a temporary erosion reduction measure until the corps dredges Barden Inlet and places some of the dredged material on the beach in front of the light house.
Joni Dennis of the Save Cape Lookout Foundation said Monday she hopes placement of the dredged material at the lighthouse beach is not far off.
Shye said the wave attenuators bought time and helped slow erosion during storms over the past year. She said storms could have caused “catastrophic” damage to the seashore and its buildings if they hadn’t been in place. But she’s not sure how long that will work, given the rising high tides.
It was indeed a long process to get the project to this point. Due to the majority of the channel lying outside CLNS, the NPS needed partners to get Barden Inlet dredged. The park service formed a cooperative management agreement with county commissioners and the Carteret County Shore Protection Office in 2019 with the purpose of establishing and maintaining waterways to various areas in the park, according to West.
County and NPS officials then negotiated with state officials and the ACE for the dredging effort. In the process, they found the last environmental assessment for the Barden Inlet channel was in 1975, which West said was “way out of date,” so a new EA was required and completed.
Shoaling in Barden Inlet became a serious problem in late 2017.
The U.S. Coast Guard removed navigation aids because it didn’t meet the standards for a navigable channel.
Despite the removal of navigation aids, West said last year local boaters still use the deepest parts of the inlet channel.