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Currituck May Revisit Whalehead Dredging

Posted on October 11, 2016

By Mike Bollinger,

Currituck officials say the timing could be right for the county to again pursue state and federal approval for dredging the channel near the Whalehead Club at Heritage Park in Corolla.

County Manager Dan Scanlon said earlier this week that a consultant who has worked previously on the project contacted him recently and said federal and state agencies could be relaxing regulations that have prohibited the dredging in the past. He noted Heritage Park has the only public boat ramp between the Wright Memorial Bridge and Carova.

He said the county has made several attempts to obtain permits dredge the channel in the boat ramp and boat basin areas, and all have failed. Scanlon said in 1997, the county submitted an application to state and federal agencies for a 40-foot-wide, 5-foot-deep and about 4,000-foot-long channel. He said after an environmental assessment was completed, several state and federal agencies objected and the permit was denied in 1998.

In 2000, a permit for a 20-foot-wide, 5-foot-deep and 2,100-foot-long dredging was submitted, and again the county application was denied after multiple agencies objected, Scanlon said. In 2004, the county sought a permit for a 20-foot-wide, 4-foot-deep and 1,755-foot-long channel, and that was denied, too, Scanlon said.

Scanlon said the 2004 denial was due in part to a Coastal Area Management Act violation by the N.C. Department of Transportation, whose crews improperly cleared some areas of the channel without approval. He said federal and state agencies did not want to consider a permit request while that violation was under court action.

In 2011, an application to restore the channel to its historic depths was submitted, Scanlon said. He said that application stated a desire to maintain the existing channel and to improve recreational benefits in the area. During the pre-scoping process, that application was also denied, he said.

Scanlon said county officials are hopeful that a leadership change in some of the agencies involved will make the permitting process more streamlined and less stringent.

“Maybe there could be a less-onerous path to go in with an application. It is, as you can see, a very steep uphill climb,” Scanlon said.

One of the issues, Scanlon said, has been if the channel has not been maintained to some degree, some agencies feel it should return to its naturalized state as if it never existed.

Commissioner Paul O’Neal said it is “not true” that the channel has not been used. He said the channel has been in use by boats since the 1950s, and saw particular use in the late ’70s.

“I encourage the board to follow through” and submit an application for a permit,” he said. “It would be nice for folks in Currituck County to access the beach other than through traffic.”

Scanlon was also instructed to seek the services of a consultant to help with the application.


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