Coastal anglers may soon find there are no buoys making the channels in several of North Carolina's shallow-draft inlets. While the inlets are in the process of being scheduled for dredging, they have already filled to shallow enough depths the Coast Guard considers them un-navigable, and is preparing to remove the channel markers.

Some buoys also have been moved off their position by Hurricane Irene and have not yet been corrected.

The shallow-draft inlets involved are Lockwood Folly, Carolina Beach, New Topsail, New River and Bogue inlets.

Federal funding has been removed for dredging all but New River Inlet, which is used for training by the military at Camp Lejeune.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it could maintain these inlets for $450,000 each for a year. The state offered to supply half of the funds for each inlet, with the county and local governments covering the balance.

That funding has been approved and is proceeding through the process to get the dredging started, but dredging won't happen quickly enough for Lockwood Folly and New Topsail inlets.

"I don't know exactly when the request will be approved, but the request has been submitted to remove the buoys from Lockwood Folly and New Topsail Inlets," said Chief Warrant Officer Edge, who is stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Macon and is the section chief for aids to navigation in the district. "It is our (Coast Guard) responsibility to adequately mark channels so they may be navigated safely, and that isn't the case at these inlets right now.

"There are issues at the other inlets, too, but these have filled in and have enough buoys off-station (that) there is genuine concern."

Edge said the most recent surveys at Lockwood Folly show most of the channel has 3 feet of water at low tide, but there are some shallower spots that do not meet the Coast Guard standards for the inlet.

The project depth for the channel through this inlet is 8 feet, with the channel being 100 feet wide. With several buoys being out of position, a potentially dangerous situation exists, he said.

Edge said New Topsail Inlet was even worse: The latest survey there showed only a half a foot of water at low tide.

He said Carolina Beach and Bogue Inlets also had issues, but currently were showing more than 4 feet of water.

Edge said the surveys for the inlets are available on-line.

Edge anticipated the process to authorize the request to remove the buoys would take approximately 30 days. Edge said that, once the dredging was completed and a final survey was done, the buoys would be replaced quickly.

He said replacing the buoys was a much easier task than removing them.

Brad Fisher with the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce said their biggest fund raiser of the year is the U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 1 out of Lockwood Folly Inlet, and that nothing should change for the tournament's participants.

"I have spoken with the chief at the Oak Island Coast Guard Station, and he has assured me that the buoys will still be in Lockwood Folly Inlet for the tournament," Fisher said. "We will have Chief Smith from the Oak Island Coast Guard at our captains meeting to explain the situation at Lockwood Folly Inlet and answer questions from the fishermen."

Dredging is the other part of this issue. The coalition of state, county and municipal governments has approved the funding for dredging these inlets, and that is being worked through the process to begin.

Col. Steve Baker, commander of the Wilmington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said they are just waiting for approval to crank up the dredges.

"We are currently waiting for the memorandum of agreement between the state and the federal government to begin the dredging," Baker said. "Our projects are usually federally funded, and this is a new process. Everything has to be in place and approved before we can accept outside funding and begin.

"I have requested that the process be expedited, as this is a genuine concern to fishermen and boaters who rely on these inlets."

Unfortunately, it's a slow process, Baker said.

"Once the MOA is approved, we will begin moving forward with our end, but it will probably be six weeks after that before the dredging begins," he explained. "I regret it is this slow, but due to budget cuts we have been forced to let some crew go and have dredges in storage, with plans to mothball one.

"We will have to assemble a crew and pull maintenance on the dredge before we can begin."

The concern from boaters and fishermen is that if the process drags on too long before dredging begins that similar situations will develop at Carolina Beach and Bogue Inlets.