It's on us. Share your news here.

Officials decry dredging red tape at Environmental Review Commission meeting

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten outlined bureaucratic hurdles facing the Miss Katie dredge.

Posted on March 11, 2024

Frustration boiled over during public comments at a March 6 Environmental Review Commission meeting (ERC) described as a Presentation to the Dredging Process and Permitting. The meeting was held at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Permitting to dredge Oregon Inlet continues to be plagued by conflicting rules and regulations that some speakers felt had deadly consequences.

Emotions were particularly raw following the death of Charlie Griffin, Captain of Reels of Fortune, when his boat failed to cross the Oregon Inlet bar sometime on the evening of March 3. A second person in the boat, Chad Dunn, has not been found and the Coast Guard suspended the search for him after 41 hours.

Mike Merritt has been a commercial and charter boat captain for more than 50 years and his remarks at the meeting reflected the emotions felt over the loss of Griffin and Dunn.

“I’ve been fishing out of Oregon Inlet for 56 years,” Merritt said. “All this red tape and all the permits cost two of my dearest friends their lives…and not because they’re amateurs…They knew what they had to do.”

Public comments followed a presentation from officials from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and the US Army Corps of Engineers. What those speakers outlined was a process that was complex and, as they admitted, time consuming. Nonetheless, the members of the ERC and those in attendance were told the agencies recognized the need for dredging in North Carolina waters.

“We have amazing navigation channels, not just the deep draft that we have in Wilmington and Morehead City, but all of those shallow draft inlets up and down the coast,” Justin McCorcle, District Council for the Wilmington District Army Corps of Engineers, said in opening remarks. “The shallow draft navigation channels serve as harbors of refuge and highly important areas for recreational and commercial fishermen as well as our tourism industry. We’ve dredged to keep those channels open.”

Jonathan Howell, Moorhead City Regulatory Section Chief for NCDEQ, pointed out that permission for dredging in North Carolina waters require a permit under the regulations of the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA). CAMA permits, he noted, are issued after consulting with all agencies that could be impacted by the dredging.

“The benefits of this process and one of the things that we really like to talk about is [there is] one permit application for all the permits that are required,” he said.

A dredging permit requires coordination among 11 state and federal agencies as well as notification to local governments.

Almost all dredging for navigation is done through U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and it is a system that relies upon federal funds to pay for dredging.

“We maintain navigation channels when Congress gives us the money to do so,” McCorcle said. “If we are not funded in congressional appropriations, we cannot raise that money.”

He went on to say that in the last federal budget cycle, funds had been provided for dredging in North Carolina. When the funding is not available, he added, dredging projects stop. North Carolina, however, has moved to ensure that dredging projects can move forward

“North Carolina is unique…in the level of support that the state legislature and local communities have provided to keep some of these waterways open,” he said.

Dare County is one of those examples. With the state’s help, the county purchased the dredge Miss Katie specifically so it would not have to count on unreliable federal dollars for dredging local waters.

Bu the potential of the dredge has not been realized and Dare County Manager Bobby Outten addressed the issue in public comment. Clearly frustrated, he described a mishmash of regulations that have stymied efforts to keep the county’s waterways safe for navigation.

Captain Michael Merritt with more than 50 years on local waters, was emotional in remembering Charlie Griffin, Captain of Reels of Tuna,and Chad Dunn who died on Monday at Oregon Inlet.

I’ve been here 40 years and we’ve been fighting the inlet problems for 40 years and we still have problems,” he asserted. Although Outten addressed a number of issues plaguing the permitting process, his ire was particularly focused on what is happening with the Miss Katie.

Permits, which have a five-year lifespan, had been issued for a federal dredging project at Ocracoke Inlet, but the project was never completed because of inadequate funding. The permit was still valid when the county acquired the Miss Kaite, and Outten noted that it is the same size and uses the same equipment that the federal permit authorized.

But Outten said he was told the county had to “start from the beginning and do a whole new process, to get a dredge [permit]” even though the county was proposing to do the same work authorized by the original permit.

After almost 40 minutes of public comment State Senator Bobby Hanig spoke. Noting the 40 years of frustration with the system that Outten cited and the two recent deaths at Oregon Inlet, he said, “We have got to come up with processes that are better and faster and have a little bit of common sense.”

Chair of the Wednesday meeting, Representative Jimmy Dixon (R, District 4), took up the call for common sense, charging his fellow legislators to find a solution.

“Members and colleagues in the House in the Senate, it is on issues on things like this that it is imperative…that we come together, and we can make a difference,” he said.


It's on us. Share your news here.
Submit Your News Today

Join Our
Click to Subscribe