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Variations on a Theme: The Oregon Inlet Debacle

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The Oregon Inlet debacle is embedded in our local history. Decades-long debates between local and national government, environmentalists, fisherman, the tourism industry, and countless others have persisted over what to do with this area of our coastline. The fights have largely been between the options of leaving it untouched, building jetties to stabilize the constantly shifting sand bars, or dredging it periodically at enormous costs.

Periodic dredging has eventually won the day, but problems still persist. Millions of dollars are spent in the area every year in an effort to control the ever-constant shoaling and keep the water depth at 14 feet. But that only happens about 15% of the time. And when the water isn’t deep enough, boating can be dangerous—a fact we highlighted here at the beginning of summer.

These dangers are particularly troublesome for charter boat operators who make their living off of taking tourists out into the inlet and beyond for recreation and fishing. When dredging isn’t effective—and it often isn’t, the likelihood of boating accidents and injuries to passengers goes up, and with it, potential liability for negligence. These charter boat operators have a responsibility to know their territory and make sure their passengers and customers are safe at all times. The boating risks created by shoaling are well-known and documented. The Coast Guard advises boat operators to exercise caution and be vigilant about shifting channels and sand bars. Any local boat operator can tell you the challenges of navigating through the Oregon Inlet and what might happen if they don’t do so safely. Knowing these risks, then, charter fishing captains have an overarching responsibility to make sure that their passengers don’t get hurt.

The area surrounding Oregon Inlet was built on the hopes of a stable, guaranteed boating access out to open waters. Today, fishermen, charter boat operators, and countless other business owners depend on it. And the promises that were made time and time again have yet to be fulfilled, leaving many locals extremely frustrated as they see their business decline and as they shoulder the burden of government inaction. Clearly, the problem needs a resolution. But in the meantime, charter boat captains need to responsibly handle the bad hand they’ve been dealt because the safety and lives of their passengers depend on it.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.