Madeleine Bishop
NCDOT Officials Adress Concerns About Ferries

A public ferry meeting was held in the Ocracoke School’s gym on Monday.

It was a follow-up to a smaller meeting six weeks prior.  

Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin, and Deputy Directors Harold Thomas and Joe Dixon, lead the meeting. 

One of the main concerns of both the Ferry Division representatives and the public was when the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry could resume the short route. The ferries have been running on the longer route since late 2013. 

Joe Dixon, Deputy Director of the Ferry Division said dredging will continue through Friday, but the ferries should resume operations on the short route by this weekend. [UPDATE: please see Friday's press release from NCDOT about the short route.)

Dixon also clarified why the short route has not been passible until this point. According to him, Hatteras Island has lost about three quarters of a mile of shoreline to the inlet in the past four years. 

“After Hurricane Irene and Sandy, Hatteras Island is losing beachfront so quickly that the sand is moving into the channel,” explained Dixon. The visible sand, trees and bushes in the sound all account for this erosion. 

Before this massive shift, Hatteras’s shoreline actually protected the narrow inlet and therefore, the ferry channel. 

Dixon explained that even after dredging is completed, there will be parts of the channel where only one ferry can pass at a time, so it may still take up to 50 or 55 minutes, depending on traffic. 

“It takes good communication with our guys, the charter boats, and commercial boats,” Dixon said. “It’s doable, and we did it last year, and we feel like we’re certainly going to be able to do it last year. 

After a question about ferry breakdowns, Dixon remarked that there have not been any more recently than what is normal. Dixon went on to explain that when they are on the short route they run four ferries and have two on standby. This means that when there was an issue with a ferry, the public usually would not be affected because they could switch it with a standby vessel. However, on the long route they have to run all six ferries at once, so breakdowns are much more obvious and seemingly more frequent.  

Both Dixon and Goodwin explained that they have successfully completed test runs on the short route, but are hoping to further improve the route by this weekend.  They representatives assured the public that they are eager to resume normal operations. 

“You can imagine the people above us the way they complain when we’re running $300,000 plus a month above our budget,” Goodwin said. “Nobody wants to see that dredging completed more than we do.”

 Thomas reiterated Goodwin’s statement and emphasized the Ferry Division’s goal of connectivity.  

“The short route helps everybody. It helps ferry appropriations, it helps us connect people and places, and it helps bring it people to visit this beautiful island,” Thomas remarked.

The representative were asked about a long-term solution for the inlet, and Dixon replied, “Can it be fixed? I think so. Is there the desire, will, and money to do it? I can’t say.”

Later, the meeting turned to a discussion about priority passes. The Ferry Division set a deadline of June 6 for vendors and businesses to obtain passes, but say they’ll grant more priority passes and occasional priority trips on a “case by case basis.”  

“We were trying to limit the number of priority passes and let the people that really deserve priority get priority,” Dixon explained. “The people that certainly need the priority will take the time to get their application and get it in.” 

The ferry representatives encourage businesses and individuals to get in touch with them beforehand to arrange these priority trips.  

Also discussed was the recent addition of cameras at the ferry terminals. Travelers simply need to visit to check the traffic at the applicable location.

In a similar spirit, Dixon explained that Ocracoke will soon receive an electronic sign to be placed right outside of the village that will let visitors and residents know what the traffic is like at the ferry terminal, and if there is a breakdown, schedule change or cancellation. The sign will be controlled remotely. 

Goodwin, who began work at director in April, was eager to distinguish himself and move forward in improving the ferry system.

“What happened three months ago, I don’t wear that on my back. I started two months ago,” Goodwin stated. “Anything that happens from the seventh of April to now is mine.”

As possible ways to increase revenue Goodwin proposed the ideas of advertising on the ferries and creating shops that sell t-shirts and other ferry-related apparel and items.

Overall, the community appeared grateful for the Ferry Division’s hard work. The group’s flexibility in regard to working with school sports teams that are travelling back to Ocracoke after a long day of travelling and competing. 

Goodwin seemed eager to work with the citizens of Ocracoke and all of the Outer Banks. 

“My bottom line is: we’re all North Carolinians. We’re all taxpayers,” Goodwin said. “I’m earning some of my own money, but I’m also earning your money. Help me do a good job with it.”

The Ferry Division says they plan to continue holding regular public meetings to hear what Ocracoke’s community has to say.

“You’ve invested a lot of money. Don’t you think you have earned your right to have your piece, and your say heard? Absolutely, that’s why we’re here,” Goodwin remarked.  

Thomas ended the meeting on a point of pride, “Mr. Goodwin came in and he wanted to make a difference, and that’s what all of us want to do; make a difference in a place that we’re proud to call home.”