Beach Access Issues
March 28, 2008

More than 600 turn out to hear about looming threat to beach access


It was just two weeks ago that Rob Alderman of the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia Web site (aka the General) announced his plan to bring together all groups advocating free and open beaches for a public meeting.  His plan came to fruition last night at the Fessenden Center in Buxton.  The stated purpose of the meeting was to provide “accurate information” and to advise the public about what could happen on Friday, April 4.  

That is the date on which Judge Terrence Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina is scheduled to hear arguments in Raleigh on a request for a temporary injunction against ORV use on popular areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The request was made by the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

The meeting was publicized via Internet, chat rooms, e-mail, and signs that sprouted up on nearly every marquee between Hatteras and Kitty Hawk.  It was also announced in Island Free Press and Virginian-Pilot articles that reported on the Celebration at Cape Point last Saturday.  By 6:30 pm, the Fessenden Center gym was packed with more than 600 people.  

The speakers assembled for the evening were:

•    Bobby Outten, Dare County Attorney
•    Jim Keene, President of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association
•    Frank Folb, Avon Property Owners Association
•    John Couch, President of Outer Banks Preservation Association
•    Chris Dillon, Director of Special Projects for North Carolina Senator Marc Basnight
•    Carolyn McCormick, Outer Bank Visitors Bureau and Dare County Tourism Board
•    Allen Burrus, Dare County Board of Commissioners
•    Warren Judge, Chairman, Dare County Board of Commissioners

According to Bobby Outten the injunction is being sought because of alleged inadequacies of the Interim Protected Species Management Plan.  In particular, Outten noted, it is the absence of an ORV management plan that makes the seashore vulnerable to the SELC lawsuit.  He did not discount the worst-case scenario—namely, that Judge Boyle might ban all driving on the beaches because an ORV plan does not exist.

Outten answered the unspoken question on everyone’s mind.  What will happen if the judge were to grant the injunction?  He said that Dare County, as an intervenor, does have the right to file an appeal.  Such an appeal, however, could take anywhere from six to 18 months.  In the meantime, the injunction would remain in place.

Jim Keene, NCBBA, identified an executive order issued by President Nixon in 1972 as the seminal event in the current controversy.  According to this order, Keene said, “Any park that has ORV usage must have an ORV plan.”  Despite the fact that the National Park Service did develop and deliver an ORV plan in 1977, according to Keene, “the plan just disappeared, like your tax dollars.”  It was not until the arrival of current park Superintendent Mike Murray, that anything has been done about an ORV plan.  “It only took 35 years,” Keene noted.

John Couch, OBPA, argued that the injunction sought by SELC is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create six new wildlife refuges within the park.  He called into question the data upon which the injunctive relief is being sought.  Finally, Couch stated, our access is in jeopardy because of “the ineptness of the Park Service over the last 35 years.”

What’s at stake was brought home by way of maps presented by Frank Folb, Avon Property Owners Association.  The maps were supplied by the Park Service.  The areas subject to closure are as follows:

•    Oregon Inlet just south of ramp 4 (ocean and soundside).
•    Ramp 44 by the Cape Point Campground around to ramp 45, which is the second road to the beach from the sand road that parallels the campground.
•    Hatteras Inlet from around the cable crossing road south (ocean and soundside).
•    Ocracoke North from just north of ramp 59 (ocean and soundside).
•    Ocracoke South from just south of ramp 72 (ocean and soundside).

Folb’s maps did not present a pretty picture to those assembled.  He ended with the words—“There it is in front of you.  That’s what it might be like next Friday.”

It was made abundantly clear to all that this is not just a Hatteras and Ocracoke problem.  According to Carolyn McCormick, for example, 30 percent of Dare County revenues derive from Hatteras Island.  It was also noted that there will be significant spillover effects to the northern (off-island) villages and beyond.  “We must all pull together to fight this battle” was a common theme stressed by all speakers.

Along these same lines, Commissioners Burrus and Judge urged all to get involved.  

According to Judge, “We've got seven days to make a difference … We need to put a human face on this problem.”  

Burrus went so far as to call for prayer.  “This is darkness that wants to come in,” he said.  “If we don’t take a stand against this now, we’ll be left with nothing.”

While the proceedings of the meeting left few with much to be optimistic about, perhaps an option emerging from Sen. Basnight’s office offered a glimmer of hope.  Representing Basnight, Chris Dillon set forth what might be called the “nuclear option.”  It is to take the same action as was taken at Yosemite to prevent an ORV shutdown.  It may be necessary, Dillon said, to push for federal legislation.  At the meeting, copies of a letter from Basnight to the members of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation were distributed.  The following passage is taken from this letter:

I write today to urge you to pass legislation as soon as possible to clarify the Park Service’s previously expressed intent to maintain public access, particularly vehicle access, to the Seashore. This issue is time-sensitive and is of critical importance to the lives – and livelihoods – of the people of the Outer Banks.

Of those in attendance, many indicated that they were just coming up to speed on the issues.  Others were looking for updates on the events of the last two weeks.  For example, Misty Gillikin, a real estate agent, said, “I should not be saying, ‘I don’t know,’ if someone asks me what is happening.”  

Many came to see what they could do to help.  Terri Williams of Stacy, N.C., came to take back information to Cape Lookout Mobile Sports Fishermen, in the hope that they would join in the fight.  
Many attendees were island residents and property owners.  Among these, Dave Parks of Avon came to find out what the Dare County Board of Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau plan to do.  The crowd was attentive, and at times, solemn in mood.  Most stayed until the meeting was adjourned around 8:15 p.m.

Another meeting planned next week for northern beaches

Another public information meeting on beach access is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. at First Flight High School

Video clips from the community meeting on beach access
Video provided by Boyer Video, Inc.

Remarks of Bobby Otten, Dare County attorney

Remarks of John Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association

Frank Folb with Maps of Beach Closures

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