Posted on January 8, 2024
CAPE LOOKOUT – Cape Lookout National Seashore (CLNS) Superintendent Jeff West said Wednesday that the long-awaited dredging of Barden Inlet – inside the park and outside it – is set to begin soon.
“They’re here,” he said of the crews. “They’re setting up. There are all kinds of equipment on site. The large dredge boat is here, but it hasn’t been set up yet.”
The large dredge is going to dredge the channel to the iconic lighthouse, and a smaller dredge will remove material elsewhere.
Carteret County Shore Protection Office Manager Ryan Davenport said Wednesday he thinks actual dredging will begin within a week or two.
He plans to have a meeting with the principals soon.
“They are always a little bit behind on when they say they will start,” he said. “But the fact that the boat is there is a good sign. You don’t move that boat there unless you’re going to start soon.”
Fishermen and other boaters have been clamoring for the project for many years. The last time the inlet was dredged was in 1977-78, and significant shoaling has occurred since then, making passage to the seashore difficult for many years.
The project is a joint venture of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
In November, USACE announced that the more than $6 million contract had been awarded to Next Generation Logistics for $6.9 million.
In a news release then, the county said the cooperative effort between the USACE, the county, the state and the National Park Service (NPS) “reflects a commitment to safeguarding our environment and maintaining vital access to the Cape Lookout National Seashore.”
The federally maintained Barden Inlet includes not only the inlet, but also the “drain” and the “S turns.”
The dredging and beach nourishment must be completed before April 1. That’s partly because of the presence of sea turtles and manatees and endangered birds. It’s not legal to put dredge spoils on islands when there are endangered birds there.
It was a complicated process to get to this point, and the park service had to give the USACE $5 million to pay for it.
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 both state officials and the USACE 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.”
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.
Meanwhile, West said Wednesday there has been very little erosion in the seashore since 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 installed near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in 2023.
The devices, donated to the National Park Service and CLNS after a fundraising campaign by the Save Cape Lookout Foundation, were filled with water for ballast. The system is a temporary erosion reduction measure until sand from the dredging project is placed there.
Once that is complete, the NPS will design a living shoreline to protect this section of beach. Living shorelines allow for natural processes to take place but minimize the effects of waves.
A living shoreline uses rocks or shells, along with vegetation, and is an increasingly popular and often more effective erosion control method than seawalls.