The Army Corps of Engineers agreed Friday to move a larger dredge to Oregon Inlet to keep the channel open for commercial fishing vessels, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday threatened to declare Oregon Inlet impassable for commercial vessels, and Perdue vowed to take all necessary steps to keep the channel open.
Shifting sands, an aging bridge and federal funding cuts are already forcing commercial fishermen to bypass Oregon Inlet and take their catches to neighboring Virginia. The Outer Banks region and the state could lose about $700 million a year if the inlet is closed, state officials said.
“It’s not just fishing jobs at stake if the inlet closes. It’s our tourism, our restaurants, our packing houses and our maintenance yards,” Perdue said in a statement. “I am committed to working with the Corps (of Engineers) and local officials to protect those jobs and keep Oregon Inlet open, but at the end of the day, we need support from the feds.”
The Corps of Engineers estimates that restoring the inlet to at least 14 feet deep – it now has a depth of 9 feet in places – and keeping it that way would cost $20 million. The next federal budget allocates only $1 million to the project.
Perdue said North Carolina is willing to chip in money to keep the Oregon Inlet open to commercial boat traffic.
The Corps of Engineers will move the dredge Currituck from Ocean City, Md., to North Carolina on Saturday and start dredging Oregon Inlet around the clock. The federal government will cover the expense of moving the dredge and operating it for the next month, Perdue said.
The dredge Merritt, which has been trying to keep the inlet open, will temporarily move to another location, officials said.
The governor has sent a letter to officials in Washington, urging them to prioritize funding for the Outer Banks dredging operations.
“Washington cannot forget the real people who depend on the fishing industry. They should not ignore the hundreds of millions of dollars that pump into the economy (from the industry),” she said.