BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The narrow passage between Oak Island and Holden Beach is even more narrow than usual as sediment buildup has left Lockwood Folly Inlet at critically-shallow depths.
“About any boat that’s going to come in and out of there is going to scrub the bottom at the moment," said Cane Faircloth, who is president of the Lockwood Inlet Association.
Faircloth said before Hurricane Dorian, the inlet was in the best shape it has seen in decades after it was dredged following Hurricane Florence.
“We had it, it was about eight feet at low tide, and then Hurricane Dorian hit and it pumped that thing full of sand," he said. "And that’s just how mother nature works. You know, you have events you have erosion, so we end up with a lot of sand in it, and then now we’ve been playing catch-up.”
Faircloth and vice president Ryan Williams said the importance of Lockwood Folly Inlet — also referred to as “Lockwoods Folly Inlet” — cannot be overstated.
“Bottom line, you have a local economy that’s depending on it. We have a Lockwood Folly River and a huge ecosystem that’s depending on this inlet being dragged and in good shape, and we’re going to have a lot of kids coming to the beach the summer and their safety depends on this also so we definitely it’s something that for local issues we need to have at the forefront,” Faircloth said.
Those three items, preservation of the inlet’s ecosystem, the local economy and public safety are all hinging on the dredging the USACE says it has scheduled for the first week of April.
Williams and Faircloth said the ocean rescue units that serve Oak Island and Holden Beach use the inlet to access the Atlantic, and unless the water is deep enough, boats simply can’t get out to help those in danger.
Faircloth said if the inlet were to completely close up, the saltwater ecosystem in that stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway would be damaged because the fresh water from the Lockwood Folly River would have no space to escape.
That would kill off fish and shellfish populations.
Additionally, Williams said, a blocked inlet would cause additional beach erosion for both Oak Island and Holden Beach, further diminishing the tourism draw of the islands, and thereby the economy.
“It’s only the only access you have of the ocean, whether that be the public, be the fish, everything. I mean it’s all coming through [the inlet], and so without that, you don’t have anything,” Williams said. “You don’t have a saltwater fish, you don’t have safety, you don’t have people coming and spending the money, the tax dollars at all.”
The dredging planned by the USACE will keep the inlet navigable for the time being, but Faircloth and Williams say they think there needs to be a new path for inlet maintenance statewide.
Dredging is paid for with a cost-sharing mechanism where the state of North Carolina pays for the majority, and local partners pay for the remaining 30% or so. In this case, Brunswick County, Holden Beach and Oak Island will share the cost.
Faircloth said the willingness at the local level is there, but with the USACE’s aging and limited resources, it might be time for the state to invest in another solution.
“I mean, we are standing here in Brunswick County with a check out, waiting for the Corps to come take care of it. It’s not a fact that we are not behind this,” he said. “We are all standing here with checks in our hands to have these inlets taken care of, but the Corps, they have aging resources and it goes to the federal level where our federal legislators have really got to dive in and get behind it and start putting some money toward getting some new equipment built, and more equipment. If they can’t do that then that something the state of North Carolina really is going to have to dive into and purchase our own dredges.”