Beach Access Issues
March 20, 2008

Islanders have lots to say to negotiated rulemaking committee members


About a dozen islanders spoke during the public comment sessions of the negotiated rulemaking committee meeting in Avon on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 18 and 19.

They were straight talking, sometimes emotional, and minced no words as they addressed the 30 members of the group that will develop a long-term plan to regulate off-road vehicles on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Several spoke at the sessions both days.

Most of the comments were about the recent request for a temporary injunction on driving on the most popular parts of the beach by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, which are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.  All three groups have representatives on the committee.

“We won’t be able to live here anymore,” said John Benson of Salvo about the threat of closing beaches to ORVs and the effect on the economy of the Outer Banks.  He also addressed the environmental groups.

“I used to consider, myself a conservationist and an environmentalist. After seeing you in action, I now find those terms to be disgusting.”

“Closing the beaches would do irreparable damage to our communities,” said Willo Kelly, government affairs director for the Outer Beaches Association of Realtors and the Outer Beaches Homebuilders Association.

“I find it reprehensible that certain groups have made an end run around this negotiated rulemaking process,” said Stewart Couch of Hatteras Realty.  “They are going to steal the soul of this community….Accessing the beach is what we are all about.”

Couch also spoke to the “anguish and loss of business” that beach closures would cause.

“I would urge people in this room to reach consensus,” said Bob Oakes of Nags Head, who is an owner of Village Realty and Ocracoke Island Realty and who also talked about the economic consequences of closing beaches to ORVs.

“If this ridiculous lawsuit goes through…you will collapse this economy on the Outer Banks,” commented Trafton Reynolds of Buxton, who has a real estate appraisal company.

“Times are tough already,” he said.  “I ask you to withdraw this ridiculous lawsuit.”

Carol Garris, owner of the Fishin’ Hole tackle shop in Kill Devil Hills, barely made the public comment period on Wednesday because of the ocean overwash that kept Highway 12 closed until mid-morning.

However, when she arrived, she unleashed an emotional barrage on the environmental groups sitting at the negotiating table.

“We know what you want,” she said. “You want our island, but we are going to fight with every breath we have.”

Garris went on to charge that once the environmental groups get ORVs off the beach, they will turn to pedestrians and maybe then to residents.

“Next will there be too many people trampling the dunes to get to the beach?” she asked.

She vowed that islanders would not give up the fight.

“Just because we live on an island, we’re not a bunch of drunk rednecks,” Garris said.  “We get it.”

Another speaker, Ron Parenti, talked about his opposition to seasonal closures.  He said that beaches in front of all the villages, including the beach in front of his oceanfront house in Avon, should be open to ORVs “365 days a year.” 

Ted Hamilton of Salvo wanted to know why the representative of the Hatteras Island Homeowners Coalition, a proponent of seasonal closure of village beaches, had missed what Hamilton said were half of the negotiated rulemaking sessions. (Steven Kayota was not present Tuesday to answer the question, but he was at the meeting on Wednesday.)

The speakers got hearty applause from other members of the public who attended the meetings and did not speak.  On Wednesday, there was standing room only at the Avon Fire Hall.

The heartiest applause went to sixth-grader Sumner Mattingly.

“Dear environmentalists,” he started, reading from his written remarks. “I am a sixth grade student from Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies in North Carolina. I am very concerned with your idea about shutting down the beach to four- wheel-drive vehicles. As you know, this will ruin our economy. If you do, it will make it so most people will not be able to survive here financially anymore. This idea of closing the beach to drivers should be taken to the people who make the vote on this issue. We are a democracy here in these beautiful United States of America. Our beach problems should be our National Park Service’s problems to deal with.

“Another point I want to make, in case you don’t already know this,” Sumner continued “is that our government’s motto is, “no child left behind.” If you shut down the beach almost every student will be left behind! That means that my family, along with many others, will not be able to afford to send me to college because we (as well as 3/4 of our island residents) rely solely on tourists. If the beach access is closed down, these tourists will find somewhere else to go spend their vacation and their money. Please react to this matter prior to April third.”

After he finished reading, Sumner added a few more comments.

“I’m also an environmentalist,” he said.

Then he added, “I want to go to college, and if you try to mess with me going to college, there will be trouble.”


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