Dare County celebrates Miss Katie Dredge Christening and Community Day

Dare County, in partnership with EJE Dredging Service, hosted a community day and christening ceremony in Wanchese on Thursday, October 13, 2022, to formally honor Miss Katie, the new 156-foot-long shallow-draft hopper dredge that will be tasked with helping to address the shoaling issues that occur within waterways throughout the region.

Miss Katie—which is the result of a yearslong collaboration between Dare County officials and EJE Dredging Service, the company that owns the dredge—departed from Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana, on August 13, 2022, and on August 19, 2022, she officially arrived in Wanchese Harbor, which will serve as the dredge’s homeport.

The celebratory event kicked off at 10 a.m. with a community day, during which members of the public were invited to take a tour of Miss Katie alongside several of the vessel’s crew members. During this time, attendees were also treated to live music provided by the Tommy V Band as well as refreshments courtesy of Ortega’z Southwestern Grill.

Miss Katie crew members provided tours of the Miss Katie throughout the community day held on October 13, 2022 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Attendees enjoying refreshments from Ortega’z Southerwestern Grille during the Miss Katie community day in Wanchese Marine Industrial Park.

Following the community day, the christening ceremony commenced, featuring remarks made by several key stakeholders, including Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard, Dare County Commissioner and Oregon Inlet Task Force Chairman Jim Tobin, and EJE Dredging Service CEO/Managing Partner Jordan Hennessy—as well as North Carolina State Senator Norman Sanderson, North Carolina Marine Industrial Park Executive Director Bob Peele and U.S. Senator Richard Burr.

“I know all of us have waited very patiently for years for Miss Katie, who will play an integral role in helping to keep our waterways open and navigable for both commercial and recreational vessels—and let me tell you, folks: the vessel that is docked beside me here today was definitely worth the wait,” Woodard said as the ceremony began.

Following the community day, the christening ceremony commenced, featuring remarks made by several key stakeholders, including Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard, Dare County Commissioner and Oregon Inlet Task Force Chairman Jim Tobin, and EJE Dredging Service CEO/Managing Partner Jordan Hennessy—as well as North Carolina State Senator Norman Sanderson, North Carolina Marine Industrial Park Executive Director Bob Peele and U.S. Senator Richard Burr.

“I know all of us have waited very patiently for years for Miss Katie, who will play an integral role in helping to keep our waterways open and navigable for both commercial and recreational vessels—and let me tell you, folks: the vessel that is docked beside me here today was definitely worth the wait,” Woodard said as the ceremony began.

Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard speaking during the christening event in Wanchese Marine Industrial Park.

On May 20, 2019, the Dare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a contract for the construction and operation of a new shallow-draft hopper dredge that could be used to address the significant shoaling that occurs in various channels and inlets throughout Dare County. This shoaling frequently prevents many commercial and recreational fishermen from having the ability to safely navigate these channels and inlets, an issue that ultimately affects their ability to make a living for themselves and their families.

“So we started kicking around some ideas of what we could do,” said Dare County Commissioner and Oregon Inlet Task Force Chairman Jim Tobin. “Harry [Shiffman, an instrumental member of the Oregon Inlet Task Force] had the idea that maybe we could build a dredge like the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] has, but instead of coming here for a couple of weeks to do a little hot spot here and a little hot spot there, it’d be kind of like the ‘little engine that could.’ It would sit there and do a little bit of work, a little bit of work, a little bit of work—and keep at it every day. So the more we thought about it, the better idea we thought it was.”

Dare County Commissioner and Oregon Inlet Task Force Chairman Jim Tobin speaking during the christening event in Wanchese Marine Industrial Park.

Funding for the project came from a public-private partnership with the state of North Carolina, in which the legislature allocated $15 million from the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Weed Fund for the purchase of the dredge, which will play an integral role in keeping Dare County waterways safe and accessible.

“They say the state gave us $15 million to build it—and that’s true—but in reality, the money came from the dredging fund from the state,” said Tobin. “So monies from when you have a boat registration go into the dredging fund. Monies from when you pay for your fuel tax go into the fund. That’s where the money came from. So actually the people who helped purchase this vessel are the people who are going to be the recipients of the work that it does—they are the people who paid for it. It’s very innovative, and I’d really like to thank all of you involved in helping us get this money. It was truly, truly amazing.”

Tobin also highlighted the fact that the public-private partnership that was formed to develop the dredge is the first of its kind—and an endeavor that many people across the country have been closely watching unfold since day one.

“We went out and did a public-private partnership—the first one in the United States,” said Tobin. “There are many, many other people watching what we did. Every time we’d go to one of these meetings—we just got back from a meeting in Wilmington—and people asked about this particular vessel and how we did it. Here she is, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Thank you all.”

Front row: Judson Whitehurst. Back row, from left to right: Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard, Commissioner Jim Tobin, Commissioner Steve House, Commissioner Rob Ross, Vice Chairman Wally Overman, Commissioner Ervin Bateman, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten and U.S. Senator Richard Burr.

Woodard echoed Tobin’s sentiments as he also commented on the relevance of this first-of-its-kind project and its importance to the Dare County community.

“Dare County is home to many firsts,” said Woodard. “It’s where flight began with the Wright brothers. This is just another step in the history of Dare County. This is unheard of throughout the United States. It’s incredible, and I’m proud to say that we’re first in a lot of things in Dare County. It takes a lot of people to make something like this come to fruition, and I can’t thank them all enough.”

As EJE Dredging Service CEO/Managing Partner Jordan Hennessy took the stage, he expressed not only his gratitude for the teamwork displayed by the many local, state and federal officials that made the development of Miss Katie possible but also his appreciation for her dedicated and passionate crew members—many of whom are local to the Outer Banks area.

“It’s exciting to be here. It’s exciting to see everybody here—to be able to see what we’ve been working on for the last four years,” said Hennessy. “I tell our crew every morning when we go out that this effort is a team effort. When everybody works together we all accomplish more, and I can’t thank our crew enough. We could not have done this without the county’s partnership, and I want to thank everyone for coming out.”

EJE Dredging Service CEO/Managing Partner Jordan Hennessy speaking during the christening event in Wanchese Marine Industrial Park.

“The waterways of North Carolina, particularly Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet, are vital commercial and recreational resources for the citizens of North Carolina and for the entire United States,” Hennessy added. “The Miss Katie is the newest state-of-the-art shallow-draft split-hull hopper dredge in the United States. The vessel is a testament to the Cajun toughness of Conrad Shipyard, and as she has operated and dredged the waterways of the Outer Banks, she is now North Carolina strong. We look forward to protecting and enhancing the much-needed economy of the Outer Banks for the present and future with the Miss Katie operating year-round dredging.”

Hennessy also offered attendees insight into the naming of the dredge, explaining that the vessel serves as a tribute to Caitlyn “Katie” Whitehurst, whose life was tragically taken by an act of domestic violence on May 13, 2019. Katie was the daughter of Judson Whitehurst, who serves as Hennessy’s partner at EJE Dredging Service.

“It’s very close to my heart and very close to a lot of families’ hearts that are here in the audience,” he said. “Katie was tragically taken from us, from the family, from this world that day.”

As the christening ceremony remarks concluded, Woodard commented, “I am so proud of all that we have accomplished and so grateful to everyone who has worked together to make this possible. It is truly an honor to be here today as we celebrate the christening of Miss Katie. I look forward to watching her work her magic in our waterways as she works to help keep our channels and inlets open and accessible for watermen throughout Dare County so that their way of life can continue to be passed along from generation to generation well into the future.”

Brooke Burr, wife of U.S. Senator Richard Burr, and Jordan Hennessy, breaking the bottle on the railing of the Miss Katie to bless the vessel during the christening event.

Following the remarks that were presented to kick off the christening ceremony, a bottle of champagne was broken against a deck rail on Miss Katie by Brooke Burr, wife of U.S. Senator Richard Burr, as well as Hennessy to bless the vessel with good luck and safe travels as she and her crew work to tackle the significant shoaling that occurs in area waterways—and to ultimately help keep them open and accessible for both commercial and recreational vessels in Dare County.

For more information about the development of Miss Katie and Dare County’s ongoing commitment to keeping area waterways open and accessible, please visit www.DareNC.com/MissKatieTo track Miss Katie’s location as she operates throughout the region, click here.

A video containing highlights from the Miss Katie Community Day and Christening Event can be found below:

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.