SOUTH MILLS — Traveling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the Dismal Swamp Canal is like a scene from “The African Queen” — minus the alligators — says a Duke University environmentalist looking for practical solutions for maintaining the boating thoroughfare.
Linwood Pendleton, director at Duke’s Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions, tied up his trawler at the docks of the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitor’s Center on Friday on his journey of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Pendleton’s enjoyment of the scenery was obvious, but his mission extends beyond sightseeing.
He’s searching for better ways to preserve the waterway’s future, through better funding and better erosion management.
For too long, states where the waterway is located — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — have relied on sporadic funding to dredge problem areas, Pendleton says. If it is to survive, the entire waterway will need a solution, he said.
Pendleton’s journey aboard his private boat The Indicator began from the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort. Two major stops were the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dismal Swamp Canal. From there, he planned to cruise north to the Chesapeake Bay to talk with recipients of federal waterway grants.
After arriving at the visitor’s center in South Mills, Pendleton said he was impressed with the “spectacularly wild” vista and teeming wildlife he’s observed so far.
Along the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, Pendleton and his team counted 18 bald eagles and a half-dozen osprey. The only thing missing are the alligators, said Ryck Lydecker, editor for “Boat U.S.”, who is traveling with Pendleton for part of the journey.
“They have got to rename it (the Alligator River),” said Lydecker, who expects that his article on the trip will be published in December.
Also aboard the vessel are Craig Tyler, an illustrator from California, and Michelle Lotker, documentarian for the trip and a Duke graduate on vacation from her job at a Miami environmental consulting firm.
Pendleton and Lydecker both say finding a funding plan for the Intracoastal Waterway is key. Under the current system, individual states vie for “pork barrel” funding, which results in “piecemeal” maintenance of the waterway, they said. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association is now proposing an integrated approach to managing the waterway, possibly through a congressionally appointed body.
Pendleton’s concerns for the Intracoastal Waterway are also focused on erosion problems. He experienced some of the dangers of shoals and shallows while navigating the Pamlico Sound. The Indicator scraped bottom in four and a half feet of water. In other estuaries, silt and sediment have chocked up most of the waterway. Traditionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dealt with the problem by dredging problem areas.
Pendleton said a better approach would be to minimize soil erosion in the first place.
One answer may be restoring salt marshes, cypress trees, and oyster beds, using the sediment collected during dredging. The marshes would reduce erosion much better than wooden bulkheads, he said.
Pendleton mentions only one disappointment on his trip to the Dismal Swamp Canal: the shortage of pump-out facilities.
Pendleton said the warm reception at a port-of-call stop in Elizabeth City was unlike anything he has experienced in his many travels. Unfortunately, he was disappointed not to find a pump-out facility nearby.
Pendleton is director of ocean and coastal policy at Nicholas Institute. According to its Web site, the organization is “dedicated to helping frame the environmental agenda by focusing on important problems and helping develop and recommend effective policies based on unbiased information and careful analysis of the issues, including the politics surrounding problems.”
Read Pendleton’s blogs about at nioceans.org.