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Coast Guard Removes Barden Inlet Markers

The red path indicates the shallowest and most dangerous parts of the channel through Barden Inlet in this graphic. Contributed graphic

Reprinted from Carteret County News-Times

The Coast Guard has removed the last pilings marking shoaling areas in Barden Inlet, and whether new navigation aids are installed is up to Carteret County officials.

Coast Guard Chief Boatswain’s Mate Chris Winters confirmed in an email Tuesday to the News-Times that five fixed aids to navigation were removed from Barden Inlet by contractors the first full week of October. BMC Winters said the five piles were the last ones used to mark areas of shoaling in the inlet’s channel.

“In October 2017 all floating aids to navigation after Buoy 24 were temporarily discontinued in response to shoaling of the waterway,” he said. “The fixed aids to navigation were converted from laterally significant (reds and greens) to white day beacons with ‘Danger’ written on them. This was done in part to advise mariners that the channel was shoaling, but mostly because the piles could not be removed by Coast Guard assets due to the available depths of water.”

BMC Winters said the markers were removed because the inlet has had additional shoaling, resulting in the waterway becoming unstable, narrow and too shallow to be considered safe for navigation at all stages of the tide for many waterway users.

“Those users with shallow draft vessels and local knowledge are free (to) transit the area as they see fit,” BMC Winters said. “Barden Inlet Channel is still deep and stable up to Buoy 24; those buoys remain in place and mark a channel from Barden Inlet past Cape Lookout lighthouse, providing access to coastal recreation and fishing areas. The channel no longer connects to Back Sound.”

Barden Inlet may reopen to deeper draft vessels at some point as county officials have plans to dredge the inlet. County officials and the National Park Service believe they have enough money on hand to pay to dredge Barden Inlet and small channels in Cape Lookout National Seashore, possibly sometime next year.

Greg Rudolph, manager of the County Shore Protection Office, said Wednesday the county and the park service signed a cooperative management agreement in July 2019 to facilitate a project, which might seem simple, but is complicated financially.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would do the work, but the NPS can’t give money to the ACE directly because federal agencies are not allowed to give each other money.

As a result, Rudolph said Cape Lookout Superintendent Jeff West found some money and leveraged it to obtain state funds. The total available is $5 million, which Rudolph believes should be enough.

However, he said the state money would have to be used to pay for dredging the federal channel – Barden Inlet, which runs between Shackleford Banks and Core Banks – while the federal money would be used to dredge the smaller channels within the park.

“There would be no county money involved,” Rudolph said. “We are just the administrator of the project” under the cooperative management agreement both parties signed last year.

But, Rudolph said there’s no doubt the work needs to be done.

“It’s really our top priority right now,” he said. “The inlet is in very bad shape,” especially the area known as the S-Turns, “where you can barely even pass it even if you know where you need to go and have your boat on plane, drafting as little water as possible.”

The bad news is the inlet hasn’t been dredged in decades, so Rudolph said said the ACE has to “start from scratch” with the environmental studies.

He said the agency has the resources to do the work, and the county and the NPS hope for a formal Finding of No Significant Impact statement, which is necessary to proceed, sometime in early 2021.

There will be a public comment period before the FONSI gets final approval necessary for work to begin.

The fly in the ointment still could be cost, as no one knows yet how far the dredge spoils will have to be transported for disposal, but Rudolph said he’s hopeful sites can be found close to the project.

At any rate, it’s a big and much-needed project for area boaters and for the seashore, he said, comparing it to a landslide blocking the entrance road to the Grand Canyon. The silted-up inlet and choked channels are similar; they’re the entrance to a national park, only the blockage is water.