MANTEO — Dare County commissioners are poised to tackle the task of unclogging the Oregon Inlet, a crucial waterway for charter fishermen and the local seafood industry.
Dare County Board of Commissioners chairman Warren Judge said the board has agreed on the need for a task force, but hasn't committed money to the effort.
Judge said the county soon will begin work on next year's budget, and commissioners will consider funding and staffing help for the task force.
County spokeswoman Dorothy Killingsworth said commissioners may select the seven-member task force on Tuesday.
In December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced efforts to clear the inlet had stopped because it was too shallow for dredges.
About 60 people met last week with officials, urging them to provide better oversight in efforts to clear the inlet. Among those attending were North Carolina Sen. Bill Cook and state Rep. Paul Tine, who represents Dare County.
Hurricane Sandy and a series of winter storms have blown sand into the inlet that splits Hatteras Island from Nags Head and the northern Outer Banks. Formed nearly 200 years ago by a hurricane, the inlet is the closest way for hundreds of fishing boats to get to the Atlantic Ocean from the sounds. Hatteras Inlet is about 40 miles south.
Federal funding for dredging also has fallen from around $7 million to $1.5 million — not enough to keep the inlet continuously navigable.
The most recent study, done in 2006 by Moffatt & Nichol, a coastal engineering firm out of California, showed that Oregon Inlet had an economic impact of nearly $700 million and accounted for almost 10,000 jobs. The study researched the industries of boat building, commercial and recreational fishing, and seafood processing concentrated around Manteo and Wanchese.
The inlet could have more of an impact if it was consistently open, Cook told the group.