| 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,
“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
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
“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
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
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.
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,
-- To send a letter to the House from the standpoint of maintaining access for you as an ORV user,