| June 11, 2008
Legislation seeks to nullify consent decree
and reinstate interim plan on ORV use
By IRENE NOLAN
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones
introduced legislation in the Senate and the House of Representatives
that would nullify a consent decree and reinstate the National Park
Service’s interim strategy to govern ORV use on the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore until there is a long-term rule.
The consent decree was signed on April 30 by U.S. District Court Judge
Terrence Boyle. It was the settlement of a lawsuit filed last
fall by environmental groups, which charged that the park’s
interim strategy did not go far enough to protect birds and turtles on
the seashore. The groups also charged that because the Park Service did
not have a long-term rule that ORV use on the seashore was illegal.
The effect of the consent decree has been to close down larger sections
of the beach than ever before during the spring and summer pre-nesting
and nesting seasons, especially at four popular recreational areas,
Bodie Island spit, Cape and South Beach, Hatteras Inlet, and South
Point on Ocracoke.
The consent decree was agreed upon by all parties to the lawsuit.
They include Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society,
represented by the Southern environmental Law Center, the National Park
Service, and Dare and Hyde counties and the Cape Hatteras Access
Preservation Alliance (CHAPA).
The decree cannot be appealed, so ORV access groups began lobbying for
legislation that will allow the park to continue to operate under its
interim plan, which was officially adopted last summer, though parts of
it had already been implemented the previous year.
Many islanders and visitors have been unhappy with the new resource
management by consent decree, which includes larger buffers for nesting
birds and a ban on night driving. Island business owners are
worried about the long-term economic damage of closing the areas,
including Cape Point, the most famous fishing spot on the East Coast.
Though these same people were not happy with parts of the interim plan,
they preferred it to the requirements of the consent decree while a
negotiated rulemaking committee works on a long-range plan that is
expected to be completed by the end of 2010.
The stated purpose of the very brief, two-page bill, Senate Bill 3113
and its companion House Bill 6233, to “to reinstate the Interim
Management Strategy governing off-road vehicles use on the Cape
Hatteras National Seashore, pending the issuance of a final rule for
off-road vehicle use by the National Park Service.” The bill has
only two short sections – one to reinstate the interim strategy
and one that says the consent decree would no long apply.
‘I share the concerns of many North Carolinians about the
negative ramifications that severely restricting off-road vehicle use
at CHNS will have on the local community and economy,” said Dole.
“beach users and members of the local community deserve to have
their voices heard to ensure the development of a long-term plan that
protects the natural habitat of the Seashore while maintaining its
economic and recreational benefits.”
“As Ranking Member on the National Parks Subcommittee, I always
try to make sure that North Carolinians have access to our
state’s scenic treasures,” said Burr. “It is
unfortunate that people are prevented from accessing Cape Hatteras at
times because of the new restrictions. I am certain we can come
to a compromise that allows people to have access, while at the same
time addressing any potential environmental concerns.”
“The consent decree has once again shown that managing the
Seashore through the courts without public input is always a bad
idea,” said Jones. “This bill would restore
reasonable public access and would bring the public back into the
process on a level playing field by reinstituting the Interim
Management Strategy until the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee can
produce a final rule.”
If the bill is enacted, the National Park Service’s Interim
Management Strategy will go into effect immediately and end when there
is a long-term rule.
The word about the introduction of the legislation spread quickly on
Hatteras and Ocracoke by phone and e-mail, with many folks, who were
unhappy about the consent decree, expressing their excitement.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Frank Folb of Frank and
Fran’s tackle shop in Avon who is a beach access advocate and a
member of the negotiated rulemaking committee.
“It’s some of the best news I’ve heard in a
while,” said John Couch, president of the Outer Banks
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Allen Burrus of
Hatteras, vice chairman of the Dare County Board of
Commissioners. “If it can be passed, it will mean that
negotiated rulemaking will have a better chance to work.”
Environmental groups had a different reaction.
A press release said that the interim strategy had “proven woefully inadequate” in safeguarding natural resources.
"This attack on the laws that safeguard our parks and seashores could
set a dangerous precedent," said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders
of Wildlife. "Basing the management of Cape Hatteras on the desires of
a handful of special interests would do a disservice not only to the
wildlife and natural resources the seashore was created to protect, but
also to the thousands of visitors who travel to the seashore to enjoy
those same resources each year."
The release noted that legal action would not have been necessary if
the Park Service had complied with the law and implemented responsible
ORV management plans.
"This bill would put back in place a failed plan to manage the natural
resources of the seashore and degrade a national treasure established
for the enjoyment of all Americans," said SELC attorney Derb Carter.
"Management under the interim plan was clearly not working, resulting
in some of the lowest numbers of nesting birds in the history of the
seashore," said Chris Canfield, Executive Director of Audubon North
Carolina. "The consent decree represents an approach that was agreed to
by all parties involved - including the Park Service, both local
counties and representatives of the beach driving community."
Late yesterday, ORV access advocates were planning an all-out appeal to
islanders and visitors who are unhappy with the consent decree to write
their senators and congressmen.
“At least, now, we have something specific to tell people to
do,” Couch said, referring to many folks who contacted area
businesses and organizations asking what they could do to help.
What they can do, Couch said, is immediately contact their senators and
representatives in their own states and seek their support for the
Spokesmen for Burr’s and Jones’ office were not specific
about a time frame on the legislation, but both Burr’s deputy
press secretary, David Ward, and Jone’s media contact, Kathleen
Joyce, said that the North Carolina sponsors of the bill would keep it
moving as swiftly as possible.
The bills must go to committee, be reported on, be voted on, and then
must go to conference if the House and Senate versions differ.
Congress will take a week off the first week in July and will have a summer recess in August.
This weekend’s beach access fundraiser on Saturday, June 14, from
noon until 6 p.m. at the Fessenden Center may have taken on a new
“Instead of a ‘Stand in the Sand,’ we will call it a
‘Celebration in the Sand,’” vowed Frank Folb.