|Beach Access Issues
| January 28, 2009
Jones re-introduces bill to set aside consent decree on ORV access
By IRENE NOLAN
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., re-introduced legislation in the House
of Representatives yesterday 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
The bill, H.R. 718, is a carbon copy of the legislation Jones introduced in the 110th Congress in June of last year.
The stated purpose of the very brief, two-page bill is “to
reinstate the Interim Management Strategy governing off-road vehicle
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.
“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,” Jones said in a
Last year, Jones’ bill was introduced on the same day that a
companion bill was introduced in the Senate by North Carolina Sens.
Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, both Republicans. Neither bill got out
Burr plans to re-introduce the bill in the Senate, his deputy press secretary, David Ward, said today.
“We want to do it early in the 111th Congress,” Ward said, but there is no timetable yet.
Dole was defeated by Democrat Kay Hagan last November.
Hagan’s deputy press secretary, Sadie Weiner, did not comment
today on whether or not Hagan might co-sponsor the legislation with
However, Weiner did say that “In the past, Senator Hagan has been
supportive of opening more of the beach to off-road vehicles.”
A Democratic co-sponsor will be important in this Congress and administration, controlled by Democrats.
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 last summer was that larger sections
of the beach than ever before were closed to vehicles and pedestrians
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. Beach
closures for nesting sea turtles continued into the fall. There
was complete ban on night driving from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. until Sept.
16, when driving at night was allowed with a free permit from the Park
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 other federal agencies, and by Dare and Hyde counties and
the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA), which were
allowed to join the lawsuit as defendant intervenors.
Many of the intervenors have said since April that they feel they were
forced into the consent decree, since they feared the even more
stringent closures requested by the environmental groups.
The decree cannot be appealed, so ORV access groups and others began
lobbying right after the consent decree was signed for legislation that
will allow the park to continue to operate under its interim plan,
which was officially adopted in 2007, though parts of it had already
been implemented in 2006.
Many islanders and visitors have been unhappy with the new resource
management by consent decree, which includes larger buffers for nesting
birds and the ban on night driving. Island business owners say
the increased beach closures are hurting the island’s
economy. Tackle shops, campgrounds, hotels, and motels were
especially hurt last summer, with some estimating losses at 25 to 30
percent. Islanders worry about the long-term economic damage of closing
the areas, including Cape Point, the most famous fishing spot on the
Many islanders and visitors were also unhappy with the Park
Service’s interim plan, but feel it was fairer to all beach users.
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.
A committee of 29 stakeholders has been meeting since January to make
recommendations on a long-term rule, but thus far there has been little
or no consensus, especially on the thorny issue of access to the most
popular areas – the points and spits.
The committee has three more days of meetings in February to finish its
work. The meetings are on Feb. 3 and Feb. 26-27 at the pavilion
at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.
The word about the re-introduction of the legislation was well received
on the Outer Banks and spread quickly on Hatteras and Ocracoke by phone
“We’re very pleased, said Warren Judge, chairman of the
Dare County Board of Commissioners and a member of the negotiating
committee. “We’re thankful to Congressman Jones for
taking the lead on this issue for us in the House.”
“We are grateful to Congressman Jones,” said John Couch,
president of the Outer Banks Preservation Alliance. “We are
pleased about the understanding that Congressman Jones has of the
consent decree and of what it has done to the local economy.”
However, environmental groups had a different view.
“The proposed legislation appears to be the same bill supported
by former Sen. Dole and defeated last year,” said Derb Carter,
attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, who represents the
National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife.
“We are unsure whether Congressman Jones understands that Dare
and Hyde counties and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance
are also parties to the consent decree, since he fails to list them in
his press release announcing introduction of the bill,” Carter
added. “It is ironic that the bill would repeal a consent decree
that allows managed ORV use on the seashore that is otherwise
prohibited by federal law.
“We are hopeful,” he said, “that the negotiated
rulemaking committee can come to a consensus recommendation that
balances ORV use and resource protection in the month we have
“It's time to move beyond the failed policies of the past,”
said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.
“Elimination of current protections -- which were agreed to in
court by Dare and Hyde counties, the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation
Alliance, as well as the National Park Service -- puts both species and
recreation at risk. Under federal law, Cape Hatteras National Seashore
must adopt a responsible ORV management plan that balances recreation
with the long-term sustainability of wildlife and natural resources. I
remain hopeful that the negotiated rulemaking committee can help
achieve that goal.”
Late today, 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.
A major campaign also followed last year’s failed attempt at passing legislation.
This year, islanders got an earlier start at a meeting on Jan. 22, led
by brothers Ryan and Scott Dawson of Buxton, the grandsons of Carol
Dillon, an outspoken critic of the National Park Service.
In an e-mail and a phone interview, Ryan Dawson said, “I
don’t know that it’s fair to say Scott and I are
spearheading this issue. Everyone on the island feels the same way.
They just needed someone to give them some direction, organization, and
motivation. But it’s the people who are doing all the
Ryan said he returned from three years of teaching in Japan to organize
a “phone blitz” of members of Congress. The 40 or so
people who attended the meeting got phone numbers and talking
points. Since then, they have passed the information on by
e-mail, phone, and word of mouth to family, friends, and neighbors.
Ryan isn’t sure how many phone calls have been made in the past
week, but he thinks that it is “for sure in the hundreds.”
He says that some folks have found it impossible to get through to some
offices on the phone. The information, he said, has been passed
out at businesses and in churches.
He urges islanders to keep on calling their representatives to seek support for the bill.
“And,” he added, "we need all the visitors who love to come here to contact their representatives.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read HR 718, introduced by North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones
You can find your representatives on the Web sites of the U.S. Senate http://www.senate.gov/ and House of Representatives http://www.house.gov/
You can e-mail Ryan Dawson at [email protected].
You can read last year’s “Shooting the Breeze” column by the Island Free Press Editor in the archives at: