The same storm that tore multiple holes through N.C. 12 and sent floodwaters rushing into hundreds of homes two weeks ago did the Outer Banks at least one big favor. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, Oregon Inlet is in good shape for the first time in a long time.
Irene eroded away the southern tip of Bodie Island Spit, a southward-moving land mass that seemed determined all year to overtake the narrow navigation span beneath the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge. Many watermen depend on that access to make a living.
With powerful southeast winds that forced Pamlico Sound beyond its banks, the hurricane left a deeper, wider and straighter channel. Just east of the bridge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers measured water as deep as 18 feet Tuesday. The same area measured as shallow as 6 feet in April.
“We’ve been waiting for man to take care of it, and, you know, God took care of it for us,” said Britton Shackelford, a charter-boat captain out of Broad Creek Fishing Center and Marina in Wanchese.
Before the storm, Coast Guard Capt. Anthony Popiel said he wouldn’t have risked sending a 110-foot patrol boat through Oregon Inlet. The water was just too shallow, the risk of running aground too great.
“We could probably do it with some confidence now,” he said this week. “It just completely cleared the sand out of there.”