Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Bob Woodard summarized the highlights of 2021 and outlined what’s to come in the year ahead during the annual ‘State of the County’ presentation on Wednesday January 19.
Held virtually for the second year in a row, Woodard began by providing an overview of the county’s accomplishments over the past year before delving deeper into upcoming projects planned for 2022.
Highlights from 2021 included the following Dare County statistics and initiatives:
- Total visitor spending in Dare County was $1.4 billion, making Dare County the fourth largest tourist destination in the state of North Carolina.
- Rental companies in the Outer Banks were also incredibly busy last year and saw occupancy rates approaching 100%. Due to these high occupancy rates, Dare County’s occupancy tax increased more than 50% for the fiscal year, for the second consecutive year.
- Dare County also had a high rate of vaccinations in 2021. 71% of the county’s population is now fully vaccinated.
- Dare County hosted a total of 52 vaccination clinics, fully vaccinating a total of 25,039 people.
- In March, the county officially completed construction of the new Dare County Animal Shelter. “This facility is a huge improvement over the one at Driftwood Drive,” Woodard said.
- Construction of the $18 million Academic Building for the College of the Albemarle (which has been underway since 2020) is now 91% complete and the building is expected to be in use for the fall 2022 semester.
- Dare County also completed construction of the two-lane boat launch at Rodanthe in 2021, through a partnership with the Wildlife Resources Commission. After several months of construction, a two-lane landing stage was built on the site with parking for approximately 14 to 16 vehicles, including boat trailers.
- In December, Dare County received an enhanced insurance classification rating from the National Flood Insurance Program. “We went from a Class 7 to a Class 6,” Woodard said. “This means homeowners in unincorporated areas of Dare will save 20% on their flood insurance premium starting August 1 this year.”
- In early 2021, Dare County and National Park Service Superintendent David Hallac worked together to create the NC 12 Task Force. The task force brings together representatives from many different organizations who are stakeholders in the future from Hatteras’ only highway and Ocracoke Island, including National Park Service, North Carolina Department of Transportation, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service. , Southern Environment Law Center, Coastal Studies Institute, Army Corps of Engineers, Division of Marine Fisheries and many more.
“The primary mission of this task force is to complete a long-term plan for NC 12 and the freeway’s vulnerable locations, i.e. hotspots,” Woodard said, noting that there are about eight hotspots along the highway, which are regularly flooded. base during storms.
While the 2021 milestones were an important part of the presentation, the majority of this year’s “state of the county” focused on the months ahead, and President Woodard spoke about the progress of several projects that should be completed in 2022.
These projects that affect Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands include the following:
jug handle bridge
NCDOT is nearing completion of the Jug Handle Bridge, which is expected to open in late February or March 2022.
Woodard confirmed during the presentation that a public celebration is expected for the community, once an opening date is announced. “The grand opening will include an opportunity, much like the Marc Basnight Bridge, for our people to walk across the bridge to celebrate completion.”
Miss Katie flirts
Woodard reported that the Miss Katie Dredge, a new shallow draft hopper dredge that will be used in the various canals and inlets in Dare County, is nearing completion.
Approved in 2019, funding for the project came from a public-private partnership with the state of North Carolina, in which the legislature allocated $15 million from the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund to purchase the flirt. The dredge – which has been named “Miss Katie” – is currently under construction in Louisiana and is expected to be delivered on April 1, 2022.
“Miss Katie will help keep our local channels open,” Woodard said. “…Many people who live and work along the Outer Banks depend on these waterways. It is crucial that they are properly dredged to ensure safe passage.
“It will be a game changer. [This] puts us more in the driver’s seat when it comes to keeping our waterways open, as these are our highways that our local boatmen use every day to get to work.
Once in Dare County, Miss Katie will be managed by the Oregon Inlet Task Force and will be able to operate up to 12 hours a day, weather permitting.
“Following her arrival in Dare County and her additional sea trials, Miss Katie will get to work starting this summer,” Woodard said.
“Having easy access to Miss Katie will be extremely helpful, but it won’t solve all of our shoal problems,” Woodard said. “We will need to continue to work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that dredging takes place in the county’s most crucial waterways, which ensures that dredging is done as often as possible in Oregon. and Hatteras Inlets. .”
In 2021, Dare County has allocated a total of $250,000 for Hatteras Inlet dredging. “With additional state funds that were added, we had a total of $1 million available, all of which was used to dredge Hatteras Inlet on multiple occasions,” Woodard said.
Woodard also noted the county’s assistance in an attempt to realign the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel, which has been underway for months, if not years, and is an initiative that was spearheaded by the Dare County Waterways Commission.
Due to its current alignment, the US Army Corps of Engineers is only authorized to dredge the southern tip of Hatteras Island using federal funding. State and local dollars must be used to dredge the South Ferry Channel to successfully create a route to the Hatteras Gorge, and permission must be obtained before dredging can be performed outside of the official dredging window from October to March.
“The fragmentation of this essential waterway, which also serves as a ferry route between the village of Hatteras and Ocracoke Island, has been a source of considerable frustration. [Everyone] from commercial and recreational fishermen to members of the U.S. Coast Guard trying to perform rescue missions, have struggled to cross the cove and get to the open sea,” Woodard said. “The realignment would ultimately classify the entire channel as federally authorized, so that federal funding and federal dredges could be used to dredge the entire channel.”
Woodard said the realignment should be finalized in April.
Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant
The county recently received a $150,000 FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance grant to update the county’s stormwater master plan.
“This master plan serves as an outline of our stormwater management policies in unincorporated Dare County, and it allows us to assess drainage issues and develop a capital improvement plan to address stormwater issues,” Woodard said. “The grant also provides the funding we need to identify and map the county’s stormwater infrastructure, and for an engineer to develop designs for critical areas of the county.”
Once the costs for these projects are determined, the county will apply for construction grants to complete the associated work. Dare County recently selected an engineering firm to update the stormwater master plan, which is expected to begin in a few weeks.
North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Coastal Management Division Grant
Dare County also received a $30,000 state grant to conduct risk and vulnerability assessments on Hatteras Island, and to identify and rank needed projects.
“The first step in this process was to develop a questionnaire which was sent out in November and we received over 1,100 responses. The next step is for engineers to rank the risks,” Woodard said. “Once the process is complete, Dare County will have the option to request up to $60,000 which would be used to design a project that would help address some of these issues affecting Hatteras Island.”
Beach feeding projects in Avon and Buxton
Several beach nourishment projects are also planned for the summer of 2022, including a new beach nourishment project in Avon and a maintenance beach nourishment project in Buxton.
“The Avon and Buxton beach nourishment projects will cost approximately $29.8 million,” Woodard said. “Dare County will contribute approximately $21.6 million from the Beach Restoration Fund, with additional funding provided by local, state and federal authorities. [sources].” The Avon and Buxton beach nourishment projects (which will cover approximately 2.5 miles of shoreline in North Avon and 2.9 miles of shoreline in South Buxton) are scheduled to begin in May 2022.
Woodard ended the presentation on a high note, concluding that despite the challenges of the past year, and in particular the ongoing COVID pandemic, there is much to look forward to countywide in 2022.
“I’m excited about the many opportunities ahead of us and the many projects we have planned for the year ahead,” said Woodard.
“As you can see the county has been and will continue to be very busy. Many exciting projects and initiatives are underway. All of this is possible because the county is in a great financial position, which this Board of Commissioners and county staff have worked very, very hard to achieve. In the months to come, we will continue to meet all challenges by coming together as a community.
The full presentation video is available online and can be viewed on the Dare County Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/darecounty.