BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — As summer approaches, the Lockwood Folly Inlet is reaching the danger zone with alarmingly shallow waters.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ latest survey of the inlet reveals the inlet is severely shoaled, meaning it’s very shallow. According to a bulletin from the Coast Guard, the waters are less than two feet deep at low tide.
Lockwood Inlet Association President Captain Cane Faircloth says the inlet is in peril and if something is not done soon visitors who use the inlet may be in danger as well.
“People are going to be in the inlet in rougher conditions in their boats who are not from the area, not familiar with this area, and they’re going to get in trouble,” Faircloth said. “Boats are going to capsize and people are going to die.”
The captain draws an analogy to the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to explain the inlet’s condition.
“You can imagine if you tried to go across the bridge and there was half a lane and some cars were just falling off into the water,” Faircloth said. “That’s where we’re at with this infrastructure right now.”
It’s not just an environmental concern, but public safety and economic one.
Faircloth says not only are boaters at risk of grounding, but people getting caught in rip currents at Oak Island and Holden Beach who depend on water rescue teams who use the inlet and not lifeguards to keep swimmers safe, fishermen, and more all depend on the inlet.
“In Tubbs Inlet, the oysters and the clams are starting to die because the inlet does not flow well. It’s really clogged up and lost probably forever,” Faircloth said. “We do not want to see Lockwood go the same route. If we let that inlet close up, the Lockwood Folly River is not going to flow correctly, and all the oysters, clams, and fish are going to start dying.”
So what is the solution? Faircloth says the inlet needs another dredging project immediately. Ideally with a hopper dredge vessel. The last time a hopper was used, Faircloth says the channel lasted a year. Although, the only hopper available has prior commitments right now.
The Corps of Engineers is working to complete a new survey of the inlet before beginning a new dredge project using the Merritt, a side caster dredge vessel.
“It does an okay job, but ideally the hopper dredge is the one that can go in there really remove the sand and create a good long-lasting channel,” Faircloth said.
The USACE survey could be completed as early as Thursday.
If USACE does not need additional funds from Brunswick County to begin a new project, a spokesman says they will be able to start very soon. If they do need more funding, it could be weeks before they are able to start.
Meagan Kascsak, a spokeswoman for Brunswick County, shared the following statement concerning funding for the project.
“Brunswick County’s recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2022 contains another appropriation to the Shoreline Reserve of $200,000, which is the same amount the County appropriated to the reserve the past few years. The reserve has a positive balance at this time and will have enough funds available to support the County’s portion (50% of local match) of an annual project with USACE for the Lockwood Folly Inlet Navigation Channel. It is our understanding that the Towns of Oak Island and Holden Beach also plan to recommend their respective portions (25% each of local match) of such a project for FY22. If all three budget plans are approved as recommended, the County will take the lead with USACE and the NCDEQ Division of Water Resources in the funding process.”