Brunswick County, Oak Island and Holden Beach have made significant financial commitments in their draft 2022 budgets for maintenance dredging of the badly shoaled Lockwood Folly Inlet. The hope is that other regulatory agencies will solve the immediate issue and regularly schedule the work to avoid potentially hazardous situations like the one on the water today.
“We’re in an emergency” said Cane Faircloth, president of the Lockwood Folly Association. Faircloth, a charter captain, said he could not safely transit the inlet in his boat that draws three feet of water.
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an “urgent bulletin” to mariners, warning the inlet was as shallow as two feet at mean low tide. The Coast Guard also removed remaining navigational buoys, stating that they no longer offered realistic assistance to boaters.
Brennan Dooley of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Brunswick Shoreline Protection group last Wednesday that the situation “does not look very good,” with the throat of the inlet badly shoaled, according to a survey last week. “It’s a tough situation as you all know,” he said. “We don’t have a definitive plan yet.”
The use of a hopper dredge in 2019 opened the channel and added sand to Oak Island’s west beach. Hopper dredges have claws that reach downward to scoop the sand. They cannot operate in extremely shallow waters, even if a dredge is available.
The Corps relies on the Merritt, a sidecast dredge that works more like a lawn mower, pulling sand through a pipe and blasting the sand/water mix to the side. This clears the channel but does not move sediments out of the dynamic inlet system that can quickly shoal.
Faircloth said his fear was that if shoaling continued unabated, the Corps may not be able to employ the sidecast dredge Merritt to clear even a marginal channel. Commercial anglers, crabbers, shrimp boats, charter fishermen and recreational boaters all depend on the Lockwood Folly inlet for ready access to the ocean and Long Bay.
Dooley said it would be at least 30 days before he expected the Merritt to be here. Members of the group, an intergovernmental ad hoc committee, asked the Corps for an estimate on the costs for annual dredging, which can happen once or twice a year, depending on conditions, budgets and the availability of dredges. Dooley said it would be 2022 before any hopper dredge would be available for Lockwood Folly, which spans the gap between Holden Beach and Oak Island.
Dooley said the next available sand from Lockwood Folly, including an inlet widening project, would go to Holden Beach. Masons Creek, Brown Inlet and Snows Cut will also see dredging.
The state’s Shallow Draft Inlet Fund picks up most of the costs. Brunswick County will pay half of the “local share.” Oak Island and Holden Beach will split the remaining 25-percent each of the local match, according to Meagan Kaescak, county spokeswoman.
Holden Beach has committed $383,000; Brunswick County will contribute $200,000 and Oak Island’s share is $100,000.
If the three local government units agree to their draft budgets, “the county will take the lead … in the funding process,” Kaescak stated.