Posted on June 21, 2023
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering granting a permit to dredge the channels that passenger ferries and recreational boats use to get to Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the most iconic sites in Carteret County, and it’s only accessible for most by a 20-minute ferry ride from Harkers Island. However, it’s become more and more challenging to get there since about 2017.
Harkers Island native and Island Express Ferry Captain Jimmy Piner navigates the channels and their problems spots many times each day.
“Coast Guard actually pulled their markers because they consider anything less than six feet non-navigable,” he explained, “So, right now at low tide, in the entrance of this “S” turn, it’s going to be a little over knee deep here, not much more than that.”
George Aswad owns the Island Express Ferry company and has been shuttling people across the water in many parts of the U.S. for 46 years.
He said that as challenging as the shoaling can be for the ferry captains, who make dozens of runs between the islands each day, it’s even rougher on pleasure boaters.
“And we’ve seen quite a few boats … we’ve seen people hit hard and fall off the boats and it’s a very dangerous situation there,” he said.
But that is likely to change this fall. Cape Lookout National Seashore Superintendent Jeff West said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering granting a permit to dredge the channels between the islands, which would be funded by a unique partnership between federal and local entities.
“We entered into this agreement with Carteret County for the joint management of waterways in the sounds over here that access Cape Lookout, and we came up with a plan and then we started putting together little pots of money here and there and trying to aim things towards the dredging that needs to be done,” he said.
The channel from Back Sound to Lookout Bight was last dredged in 1997 and Barden’s Inlet hasn’t been dredged since the late 70s.
West said there is no reason to expect the permit won’t be issued, and the environmental impact study showed only a positive effect on the area.
Some of the sand from the dredging, combined with beach renourishments plantings, will address erosion on the soundside beach in front of the lighthouse compound, but West said they’re also looking into using it as part of a plan that could reduce the impact of sea level rise on the island’s salt marshes.
“It’s called thin sediment deposition and you use dredge materials and basically spray them out over the marsh to a very thin layer, but it raises that height of the marsh,” West explained, “Marsh becomes reestablished at that greater height, and then potentially you could do it again and again several times as you needed to make sure you maintain those marsh areas.”
His agency is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine if this could help counter the salt marsh loss expected in the next 20 to 30 years; West added that NOAA has headquartered its countrywide marsh investigations and research in Beaufort.
If the $6.5 million dredging plan is approved, work is expected to begin November 1.
In the second of our three-part series about all that is happening at Cape Lookout, Annette and seashore superintendent Jeff West will talk about coming work to the lighthouse, when it might happen, and how it will be done. That’s next Friday on PRE.