Beach Access Issues
May 5, 2008

Three popular areas closed to ORVs under consent decree

By IRENE NOLAN



The National Park Service today closed down three popular areas on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to off-road vehicles.

They are the first major closures under the terms of a consent decree that was signed last week by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle and that ended a contentious legal battle over ORV access on the seashore.

The areas that have been closed to ORV traffic are Bodie Island spit, Cape Point, and the South Point of Ocracoke. All three are especially popular with fishermen, and the closures couldn’t come at a worse time for surf anglers.  The spring fishing season has just shifted into high gear, with catches of drum and big bluefish and the promise of cobia fishing later this month and next.

At Cape Point, Park Service rangers told fishermen mid-afternoon that they had to leave the area, and then signs were erected closing the beach just west of Ramp 44, effectively closing off access to what is probably the most famous area for surf fishing on the East Coast.  Access to the Point from the west, from Ramp 49 in Frisco, is already closed.

On Ocracoke, Alan Sutton of Tradewinds Tackle Shop said a park ranger came by about mid-afternoon to tell him that access to the South Point was closed just west of Ramp 72.

“I don’t know why they couldn’t have waited until 6 a.m. to close the beach,” said Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton.  Eakes noted that, under the consent decree, the beaches are closed to ORVs from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.  Park officials, he said, could have let the fishermen finish their day and close the beach overnight.

Eakes is just one of several ORV access advocates who are unhappy with the consent decree.  They say they had no choice but to go along with the settlement.  The alternative may well have been closing all the seashore beaches, which Boyle indicated on more than one occasion he was willing to do.

“I’m so tired of the Park Service acting like everyone is so happy about the consent decree,” said Eakes. “My community was forced to go along.”

The consent decree is essentially a settlement among the parties involved in a lawsuit filed last October by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society against the National Park Service and others.

The plaintiffs claimed that ORV use on the seashore is illegal, since the Park Service does not have a special rule to regulate it, as has been required since 1972.  Also, they claimed that the interim plan that the Park Service was operating under until a long-range plan is formulated by a negotiated rulemaking committee does not go far enough to protect wildlife in the park, especially shorebirds and sea turtles. In addition, the plaintiffs asked Boyle in February for a temporary injunction to prohibit ORV use until the suit was settled on six popular areas of the seashore.

The defendants were the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others, including the director of the National Park Service and the superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Boyle allowed Dare and Hyde counties and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance to become defendant/intervenors in the lawsuit to represent the interests of the public.

The settlement stops short of closing six popular recreational areas year round – Bodie Island spit, Cape Point and South Beach, Hatteras Inlet, and the north and south points of Ocracoke. Beaches, or some of them, will remain open to beach driving, but the restrictions will go beyond what most are used to and what the interim plan required.

Those increased restrictions became a reality today for islanders who were out to enjoy some good fishing days after a long winter and for visitors who were enjoying their spring surf-fishing vacations.

These are the areas closed, according to a Park Service media release:

1)  Bodie Island Spit – A 150-meter buffer is required for an American oystercatcher breeding area located approximately 50 meters from the ocean in a narrow section of beach north of the spit.  The buffer will preclude ORV and pedestrian access along the ocean shoreline.  NPS is evaluating an option for a pedestrian bypass, outside the buffer, through the interior of the spit to reach sections of the spit/shoreline that are otherwise open to recreational use, but currently an appropriate option does not exist due to flooded conditions.  NPS will continue to work on the pedestrian bypass option.  Ramp 4 north to Ramp 2 is open for 2 miles to ORV and pedestrian access until May 15 when the seasonal closure in front of Coquina Beach goes into effect.

2)  Cape Point – A 100-meter buffer is required for a least tern breeding area that is occurring approximately 80-90 meters from the ocean near the eastern edge of the Cape Point pre-nesting area, adjacent to the ORV corridor on the northeast side of the Point.  The 100-meter buffer will preclude access along the shoreline.  There currently is not an alternative access option around the buffer; however, NPS will continue to evaluate the situation daily. 

3)  South Ocracoke – A 50-meter buffer is required for breeding adult piping plovers that are foraging on the northeast side of the pre-nesting area.  A piping plover nest has been established nearby (within the pre-nesting area).  Adult piping plover are repeatedly foraging on the adjacent shoreline in the 100-foot ORV corridor.  There currently is not an alternate route option available. However, NPS will continue to evaluate the situation daily.  Ramp 72 north to Ramp 70 is open for approximately 1.8 miles to ORV and pedestrian access.

Sutton of Tradewinds Tackle says he has asked the Park Service to provide him with maps to explain to visitors who come into his store exactly what is open and what is not.

“It’s hard to talk to people who come in here,” Sutton said.  “They are so upset, and you don’t know what to tell them.”

And, under the best of circumstances, understanding the closures and beach access and what’s open to pedestrians and what’s open to ORVs isn’t easy.

It will be a challenge this summer.

For instance, apparently Cape Point is open, but you can’t get there – not from the east and not from the west.  Right now, you apparently can’t even walk there.

Eakes said that he figures that when the piping plover nest just southwest of the Point hatches, and the 1,000-meter buffer comes into play, that only about a mile and a half of the South Beach will be accessible from Ramp 49 to the Point.

“We don’t expect to see the Point open again until mid-September,” Eakes said.

Frank Folb of Frank and Fran’s tackle shop in Avon agreed.

“It’s going to go up and not down,” Folb said of the miles of beach closed to ORVs.

“I feel this is a travesty,” said Rob Alderman of Buxton, who runs the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia Web site (www.fishmilitia.com) and who organized rallies earlier this spring to support ORV access.

“Everything we have done with the agreement and negotiated rulemaking has been futile, useless…The environmental groups are still going to get what they want.”

Folb, on the other hand, says today’s closures “may have been the best thing that could have happened.”

“It will turn the burners up.  We must have help from our Congressmen.”


ADDITIONAL BEACH ACCESS NEWS


Today’s media release from The National Park Service also noted that sections of the seashore were opened over the weekend to ORV and pedestrian access.  An ORV safety closure, approximately 1.6 miles in length, was lifted along the Avon beachfront from 0.1 mile north of Avon Fishing Pier to Ramp 38.  There is temporarily through-access from Ramp 34 to Ramp 38 until the seasonal village closures go into effect on May 15. 

Also, temporary stabilization work on Ramp 44 was completed last weekend to attempt to alleviate flooded conditions.  The ramp was re-opened late Saturday afternoon.  Park maintenance crews have further plans to remedy the flooded ramp condition by raising the roadbed with appropriate materials and thus reducing closures of the ramp in the future due to flooding.

For more information on beach access, the Beach Access Report is distributed weekly on Thursdays. For more resource management information, the Resource Management Field Summary is distributed weekly.  In addition, check www.nps.gov/caha for more information or call 252-473-2111 ext. 148.

(More information on the consent decree is available in the Shooting the Breeze column by the editor at the top of the front page of The Island Free Press. The National Park Service’s weekly beach access and resource management reports are available on this site on the Beach Access Issues Page.)





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