Sundae Horn
UPDATE: Ferry Me Across the Water

The North Carolina ferry system is Ocracoke’s lifeline. Without it, we would be, well, lost at sea.

So when we see trouble with the ferries looming on the horizon, it can make us more than a little nervous.

The buzz on the island yesterday was that the Hatteras Inlet ferry stacking lanes were backed up, and people were turning away. The only ferries running were the smaller boats, with a smaller carrying capacity (about 30 vehicles, compared to the 40 vehicles the big boats can take.) And rumors spread that the channel isn’t dredged.

According to ferry division communications officer Lucy Wallace, the dredging is complete.

She said that ferry division deputy director Jed Dixon met with the Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard this morning about Hatteras Inlet.

“We’ll start running the double-ender big boats as soon as the channel buoys are re-located,” she said. “The markers need to be moved to follow the new channel configuration. Then we’ll do a test run with a double-ender.”

Wallace said the double-enders could be on the runs as early as tomorrow, but their use may still be dependent on tides and wind. The channel, though newly dredged, is still narrow and shallow.

“We are operating as best we can under the conditions,” she said. “Hurricane Irene did a number on us.”

The possibility of future dredging is up to the Corps of Engineers.

Wallace said there were some traffic back-ups on Monday and Tuesday, but the waits weren’t as bad as in the summer.

The Hatteras Inlet ferries are operating on the hour.

“We’ll go to the half-hour schedule in May,” Wallace said. “That’s because of budget constraints.”

She explained that the division decided it wasn’t fiscally responsible to hire the extra summer employees this early in the season. Adding more runs without extra crew would mean the current employees would head into overtime.

“Because of the budget, we are trying to limit overtime, and keep the crews from working more than 12 hours a day," Wallace said. 

The summer schedule for the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island routes has been cut due to the budget. There are not as many ferry runs scheduled this year, and the last boat from Cedar Island leaves at 5:30 p.m.

Wallace also said the ferry division is in “a holding pattern,” waiting to hear what will happen with the proposed ferry tolls. The new tolls were originally scheduled to go into effect on April 1, but because Governor Bev Perdue placed a moratorium on the tolling, the ferry system still can’t say if and when the tolling will increase. Wallace said it would take the ferry division about 30 days to implement the new toll system after they get the go ahead.

“The legislature cut our budget and everything we’re doing is based on that,” she said. For the fiscal year 2010-11, the budget was $41.5 million, though the division did not spend it all. For 2011-12, the budget is $34.1 million. The shortfall will be made up through cuts in spending (i.e., limiting overtime) and raising a mandated $4 million through tolls.

Yesterday, the brand new ferry M/V Swan Quarter (that’s it’s name, but it sails the Cedar Island run just to confuse things) ruptured a high-pressure fuel line, causing it to miss two runs yesterday and today 

A part for the ferry is being shipped overnight and will arrive tonight.

“Our mechanics are in place to work all night,” she said. “The ferry should be fixed for the morning run.”

She also explained that the ferry service had added extra runs from Cedar Island this week because of the Easter holiday, so “no one’s getting left behind.” 

UPDATE: The Ferry Division just tweeted that the 7:30 am & 1 pm Ocracoke-Cedar Island and 10 am & 4 pm Cedar Island-Ocracoke ferry runs are cancelled for Friday. Call 252.928.5311 for more info.