The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will start emergency dredging Wednesday to reopen the sand-clogged navigation channel at Oregon Inlet, which is closed to most boaters as the summer tourism season approaches.
Citing shoaling that has made passage perilous, the Coast Guard issued orders Saturday to keep all vessels with more than a two-foot draft at least 100 yards away from Bonner Bridge, which carries N.C. 12 over Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.
Some boaters try to steer around the channel to slip between bridge pilings where the water sometimes is deeper. But while the channel has wooden fenders to prevent damage to boaters and bridge supports, the other pilings on the bridge are not protected.
Sen. Bill Cook, who represents Dare County, said in a letter Saturday to Gov. Pat McCrory that two commercial fishing vessels struck the pilings last weekend while they sought unmarked passage beneath the bridge.
The Coast Guard invoked for the first time last week new rules it announced in December, giving its officials the authority to restrict boating near the bridge.
Cook expressed concern that the channel shoaling will hurt the Dare County fishing and tourism economy just days before the end of the bluefin tuna fishing season, and just ahead of Easter weekend. He asked state officials to press the federal government for more dredging money.
The Corps of Engineers said new surveys show the channel has six feet of water under Bonner Bridge and less than two feet east of the bridge. A sidecast dredge will start work Wednesday to dig out an 8-foot channel, and then a hopper dredge will work to provide a federally authorized channel depth of 14 feet, the agency said.
“We recognize the importance of this gateway for vessels traveling in and out of the Oregon Inlet and will continue to do everything possible to reopen the channel,” Donnie Potter, chief of the physical support branch for the Corps of Engineers district office in Wilmington.