Beach Access Issues
July 25, 2008

Senate subcommittee sets hearing on bill to set aside consent decree

By IRENE NOLAN




The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday, July 30, at 2:30 p.m. on a bill that would set aside 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 Senate legislation, SB3113, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., on June 11.  A companion bill, HR6233, was introduced in the House of Representatives on the same day by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, also a Republican.

The consent decree was signed on April 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle.  It settles 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 Senate’s National Park Subcomittee is under the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  Burr is the ranking minority member of that subcommittee.  The chairman is Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii.

“This is a very important bill for the people and economy of our coastal communities,” Burr said in a statement, “and I, along with Sen. Dole, am working very hard with members of both parties to ensure that it is brought up for a vote and receives the support it needs to pass.  It is my hope that S. 3113 will be brought up as soon as possible and that we will have the opportunity to vote on it during this Congress.”

The hearing will include not only the bill to reinstate the park’s interim strategy, but the subcommittee will also hear testimony on at least 10 other bills dealing with the National Park issues -- from establishing a commemorative trail in connection with the Women’s Rights National Historical Park to modifying the boundaries of the Oregon Caves National Monument.

The hearing can be watched live on the Internet, and Dare County will put a link on its Web site to the webcast and will also replay the hearings on the government access channel, Channel 20 on Charter Cable.

The subcommittee’s Web site does not yet include a list of witnesses who will appear at the hearing, but a Dare County media release today noted that Warren Judge, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, will address the subcommittee about the impact of the beach closures.  Also, Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, is expected to address the lawmakers on behalf of the environmental groups that brought the lawsuit, the Defenders of Wildlife and National Audubon Society.

"When our land was taken in 1952 to create the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Park Service Director, Conrad Wirth, gave his promise that access to those beaches would never be denied,’’ commented Judge. "I hope to convey to our elected officials the harmful effects these beach closings ordered by a judge have had on our economy and our trust of government."

Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife will attend the meeting but will not testify, he said.
 
"The consent decree was carefully crafted to help the National Park Service meet its legal mandate to protect wildlife during the critical nesting season while at the same time preserving significant opportunities for public use,” he said in an e-mail.  “Representatives of Dare County, Hyde County, and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance participated in settlement negotiations, agreed to the consent decree, and specifically urged Judge Boyle to accept it.  That they would now advocate for its legislative repeal is disingenuous at best. 
 
“The only long-term solution to this issue is a final ORV management plan, based on the best available science, that meets the National Park Service's legal obligations to protect the seashore's natural resources,” Rylander added. “Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been out of compliance with numerous federal laws for many years and this must be addressed.  Time would be better spent helping the Park Service devise a plan that ensures both the protection of wildlife and public enjoyment of the seashore for generations to come.  We remain hopeful that the ongoing negotiated rulemaking process can achieve that goal as quickly as possible."

On the House side, the legislation was referred to the Natural Resources Committee and the Judiciary Committee on June 11, and to the Subcommittee on Natural Parks, Forests, and Public Lands on June 13.

There has been no further action on the bill in the House.

“While no hearing is currently scheduled on the House side,” according to Kathleen Joyce, Jones’ press secretary, “Congressman Jones is working with Sen. Basnight, high-ranking committee Democrats, and outside groups to try to convince the Resources Committee Chairman to hold a hearing on the issue as soon as possible.

The reference to “Sen. Basnight” is to state Sen. Marc Basnight, who represents Dare County in the state legislature and is President Pro Tempore of the state Senate. 

Basnight is a Democrat, which may be why Congressional leaders are looking to him for help with this bill.

The outlook for both bills is hindered by the fact that they were introduced by three Republicans in a Congress controlled by Democrats, said Patricia Doerr, director of ocean resources for the American Sportfishing Association. The group is lobbying for beach access causes on Capitol Hill, and Doerr is also an alternate on the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee, which is formulating a long-term ORV plan for the seashore.

“It’s going to be very tough,” Doerr said, to get the bill passed in this session of Congress. “It’s going to require a lot of effort from the citizens of North Carolina, contacting their congressmen and senators.”

In addition to the political considerations about whether the Democratic leadership wants to help Republicans bring a bill to the floor, there is a serious time crunch.

After next week, Congress will adjourn for a summer recess.  Lawmakers will return after Labor Day, but most observers on Capitol Hill think that the Congress will adjourn on or about Sept. 30 for the rest of the year.  They will all be busy with the fall elections and may or may not return before a new Congress is sworn next January.

Then there is the given that the well-funded environmental groups that brought the lawsuit will aggressively lobby lawmakers to stay with the consent decree.

The combination of the dwindling time in this Congress, politics, and an organized environmental lobby probably means that there is little or no chance that legislation to nullify the consent decree will pass this year.

In order to become law, the legislation must be reported out of committees and subcommittees in both the House and the Senate, be brought to the floor of each for a vote, pass, and go to conference if there are difference in the bills.

Even if the legislation does not pass this year, the ASA’s Doerr said, there is a bright side for beach access advocates.

“It’s good to have a hearing,” she said.  “It will build a foundation for the next Congress.”

For more information on watching the hearing

The beach closures issue will be one of many that will be discussed at the session of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks that begins at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30. Interested persons can watch the hearings on the Internet by going to http://www.energy.senate.gov and clicking on ``live webcast’’ on the left side of the page.  Anyone who chooses to watch the live webcast is asked to be patient.  The video stream often takes several minutes to begin.  Viewers should also keep in mind that other items are being discussed, so the beach driving discussion may not begin until later in the hearing.  Dare County will put a link on its Web site, www.darenc.com, and will replay the hearings on Cable Channel 20 MAGIC government access. Broadcast times will be listed on the channel and on the Dare County Web site.


Beach access groups are gathering signatures for petition

Groups that are supporting free and open beach access have been sending this information:
The legislation to restore access at Cape Hatteras will be up for a hearing in the National Parks Subcommittee on Wednesday, July 30. 

We have a petition we would like to deliver to the committee on that date.  Please take a moment to sign it.  Our goal is 10,000 signatures.  We have 6,445 as of July 24.
 
http://www.gopetition.com/online/18790.html
 
While you’re at it, there are two new letters now that will be sent automatically for you.  If you didn't send the longer letter, please send one of the following.
 

All you need to do is supply your address.
 
-- To send a letter to the Senate and the House from the standpoint of maintaining access for you as an angler,
http://capwiz.com/asafish/issues/alert/?alertid=11572071

-- To send a letter to the House from the standpoint of maintaining access for you as an ORV user,
http://www.arra-access.com/campaign/nc_hatteras_access?rk=H7Ax84pqqitlE

 



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