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Oregon Inlet

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Current Situation

Local commercial fisherman, fish processing businesses, charter boat captains and entrepreneurs whose businesses depend on a reliable passage through Oregon Inlet for goods or services , have all experienced setbacks and delays due to the inability to safely navigate the inlet. Ask around and most of them will tell you they are reevaluating their stake in the area and possibly looking to relocate. 

In 1970, Congress authorized construction of two jetties and a 20 foot deep ocean bar navigation channel. This promise of reliable access through Oregon Inlet paved the way for economic investments to industries reliant upon ocean access. These investments led to a period of prosperous maritime businesses, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in local, state and federal tax dollars. 

However, now faced with the unpredictably of secured funding for dredging , the continuous shoaling of navigable channels, and the economic losses resulting from Oregon Inlet closures, many businesses and fisherman are contemplating leaving the area. The situation Dare County currently faces regarding Oregon Inlet is dire. Millions of local, state, and federal tax dollars fall upon the shoulders of Oregon Inlet. Without a viable solution, Dare County and the state of North Carolina will lose millions in financial benefits from the commercial fishing, seafood packing and processing, boat building and support services and recreation fishing and tourism industries. Without a solution, entire communities of generational fishing families will leave the area and take along with them the historical and cultural watermen heritage of this region. 

Once a month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts hydrographic surveys of Oregon Inlet. The resulting maps provide critical information about the depths and accessibility of the inlet. It's important to note, these waypoints, maps and associated information represent the result of surveys made on the date indicated and can only be considered as indicating the general conditions existing at that time. These conditions are subject to rapid change due to shoaling events. A prudent mariner should not rely exclusively on the information provided in these surveys. 


History of Oregon Inlet

Oregon Inlet was formed by a hurricane in 1846 and was named for the first ship to navigate the channel, the side-wheel steamer Oregon. The new inlet paved the way for the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the region. Since its formation, the inlet has moved two miles south since its creation due to currents and shifting sands. The shifting sands have built up the northern side of the inlet while continuously eroding its southern side. 

In 1950, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a channel in the inlet to a depth of 14 feet; the channel was aptly titled the ocean bar navigation channel. 

In 1970, the late U.S. Representative Walter B. Jones, Sr. prompted Congress to authorize the construction of two rock jetties and a 20-foot-deep ocean bar navigation channel for Oregon Inlet. Named the Manteo (Shallowbag) Bay Project, it was officially authorized by Congress in 1970. With the promise of a reliable and safe passage, local commercial fishing businesses, marinas, charter boat businesses and even the state of North Carolina began investing in the area. In 1981, the state of North Carolina built a 50 acre industrial park around Wanchese Harbor (Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park). The state planned for large seafood processors to move to the area, investing on the promise of dependable access to the ocean and a harbor where fisherman could land their bountiful catch. 

For the next three decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed numerous economic studies to determine if the project was justified and submitted plans to stabilize the inlet. It repeatedly faced opposition from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Marine Fisheries Service, primarily on environmental grounds. By 2003, the project had become a $108 million proposal to build two rock walls more than a mile long and was known as the "Most Studied Project in America". While studies were ongoing, no money was ever appropriated to construct the jetties. 

After three decades of economic development and investment in the area based on Congressional promises, the White House Council on Environmental Quality killed the plan to keep the inlet open with jetties to block the shifting sands that choke it. The decision, released in May 2003, included assurances that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would receive enough funding to keep the inlet dredged to maintain the authorized 14-foot depth. 

Since 1994, the Army Corps of Engineers has only spent an average of approximately $2 million per year on dredging, limiting it to maintain the 14 foot depth only 15% of the time. This limited dredging has resulted in the U.S. Coast Guard's inability to properly position navigation buoys for the channel. As a result, this increases the risk of damage to vessels and injury to people. Since the 1960's, over 25 people have died and 22 boats have been lost in the 1,300 feet wide inlet. 

In 2006, a study of the economic benefits of Oregon Inlet commissioned by the Dare County Board of Commissioners was released. It outlined the multi-million dollar impact of Oregon Inlet on Dare County and the surrounding region including monetary benefits from the commercial fishing industry, seafood packing and processing, boat building and support services, and recreational fishing and tourism sectors.