06/20/05 — Pier pressure: Shallow water sinking school ferry proposal

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Pier pressure: Shallow water sinking school ferry proposal

It is time for the state to abandon a plan to ferry 10 Outer Banks children to and from the mainland every day so they can go to school. Solutions are available that are more sensible and less expensive.

The children live at Corolla, which is in the island portion of Currituck County. Currituck has no school on the Banks, so the children used to go to school in neighboring Dare County. Currituck paid Dare a fee for them.

Now Dare officials said they can no longer educate the Corolla children because of crowding.

Busing them from Corolla to the Currituck mainland does not seem feasible. It is miles from Corolla southward through Dare County to the nearest bridge. Then the route would cross the bridge and turn north back into Currituck to an elementary school.

A ferry ride across the Currituck Sound would be 10 miles. That would be nearly an hour’s ride by ferryboat but it would be shorter than the land route.

The main problem is that the sound is too shallow for ferry service. That fact has vexed the project from the beginning, starting when state Department of Transportation workers were caught illegally making a channel near a dock on the Corolla side.

Dare County Sen. Marc Basnight, a Democrat who is the president pro tempore of the Senate, is a proponent of the ferry service which, coincidentally, would benefit the Whalebone Club, a privately owned resort near Corolla.

Basnight met recently with state and local officials and came up with a new plan. Under it, a pier would be built at Corolla that would be long enough to reach water deep enough to accommodate the ferry.

This pier would extend 1,800 feet into the sound and would be twice as long as any other pier on the East Coast.

Basnight got the Legislature to appropriate $834,000 for the ferry project two years ago. Whether that would be enough to built the pier is problematic, because this would have to be an extraordinary structure.

It may have to be 10 feet wide, according to the Corps of Engineers. Children would have to walk a third of a mile in all kinds of weather, sometimes in the dark, to get to and from the ferry, so the pier would have to be enclosed with sidewalls and a roof. It would cross navigable waters so it may have to be to be at least eight feet higher than the water level. Bigger boats and sailboats would have to go around.

The state has bought a $300,000 pontoon-type ferry, capable of carrying 49 passengers, which now sits waiting.

Operating it would cost $400,000 a year.

If ferrying children is really the main reason for the plan, a better way can be found, one that is easier on North Carolina’s taxpayers.

Since home-schooling has proven so effective, professional teachers could be hired to teach the dozen or so students similar to the way mothers teach their own children.

Or someone could start a charter school at Corolla.

There may be other suggestions. The day is gone when all children have to be taught in a traditional school setting.

But if the families of the Currituck island children insisted on a traditional setting, the state could add to the fee that Currituck County pays Dare County so the Currituck children could get back into Dare’s island schools.

The pier-and-ferry plan is impractical to the point of absurdity.

Published in Editorials on June 20, 2005 12:08 PM