April 20,  2010

Guest Column: Anybody for a swim?


With winter fading into spring and sunny days finally displacing the rain, a jump in the ocean will soon be on most everyone’s mind.  But the simple truth is we shouldn’t have had to wait this long for that swim.

Why is that, you might ask?  Well, my answer to that is that when my brother Kenny Oden passed away back in 2004, in his will he donated a piece of property to the kids of Hatteras Island.  

He and his lawyer, Jean Louise Dixon, came to the conclusion that the proceeds from the sale of the property would make a wonderful start towards a swimming pool. And, let’s face it, what kid doesn’t enjoy a swim? 

So, with this in mind, in the summer of 2008 my family presented a check for $400,000 to representatives of the Dare County Board of Commissioners towards the goal of a year-round aquatic facility. 

Consider on this island surrounded by water the potential benefits of a school and community pool.  

As a fisherman who spends close to a third of the year offshore, I am still amazed when I hear another captain or mate admit that he or she doesn’t know how to swim.  I can also envision Coast Guard safety training, which will soon be mandatory on commercial vessels, being administered in such a facility. I was recently reminded that nine fishermen in the last 25 years have drowned in this county while pursuing their occupation, and I think of four others. I am sure there are more.

Need I say more?   If only one of those lives lost was related to the inability to swim, then we should feel shame.

With these examples, I am looking at the issue of a community pool from my perspective. So what about the kids my brother had in mind?

Well, what about a swim team for starters?  Does anybody doubt that our kids would excel?  And, of course, this facility would also open many other doors to more safely pursue the many aquatic activities available to our unique area -- surfing, lifesaving, diving, kiteboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, bodysurfing, waterskiing, or maybe even paddle boarding. 

Also what about the elderly? They often have difficulty finding suitable exercise for aging joints. 

And, lastly, I am thinking back about my brother who went through 23 operations and spent untold hours and months in rehabilitation away from this island. One of the most beneficial aspects of a community pool facility would be its use for therapy and rehabilitation.

Yes, the possibilities are endless. So what’s the holdup?

Well, that’s a question that I need you to help me answer.  

In this case, the first order of the day is to acquire a piece of county land which the project can call home.  Other required criteria for this project are high ground and a close proximity to the school.  

With that understanding, it was quite a relief to find out that prior to my brother’s passing, there was already an effort underway to create this community pool complex that had identified county property for the project.   You see a survey done by the county has already identified a need for these facilities countywide, and this donation gives us on Hatteras Island the inside track.

The most suitable property is called the “Blair tract,” which is located by the Cape Hatteras Elementary School in Buxton.  The holdup there is that our Dare County Board of Education is hesitant to relinquish this property for a couple of reasons.  One is the board envisions a possible need  for a middle school,  which seems doubtful in my mind with the Coast Guard  no longer the presence it once was and enrollment down from projections, but who am I to question the wisdom of the Board of Education?  Another reason the board cites is that because of the current economic conditions, the school system doesn’t want to lose this asset.

Therefore, another suitable property is the old U.S. Weather Bureau complex in Buxton that now serves as a soccer field.  It is high ground and close to both schools, and I would bet that another suitable soccer field can be found elsewhere. 

Also, Allen Burrus, our Hatteras Island representative on the Board of Commissioners, mentioned the possibility that the county might acquire the old Navy Base/Coast Guard property in Buxton and that might be an option in the future.

It is less suitable than the other properties since it is not on high ground and farther from the schools.  But one thing is for sure. It would certainly make a good soccer field!

So there it is, folks.  At this point and in these tight times, keep in mind that we are not asking for money for this project, even though matching funds are available through The Dare County Parks and Recreation Department.  All we are trying to do at this point is to get a footprint that this project can call home.  The funding will come.

It also should be noted that there is a long list of citizens waiting in the wings who have offered their particular expertise in making this happen, including the Hatteras/Ocracoke Committee of the Dare County Chamber of Commerce.

The rest is up to you -- the public.  If you think that this project is a good idea, then help us make this happen by creating a dialogue with both our county commissioners and our Board of Education for a solution to the deadlock. 

If you islanders show just 1 percent of the persistence my brother could when he wanted something done and was restrained by his physical disabilities, then the project will start the day after tomorrow -- if not sooner.

It’s your call -- and thanks.

(Jeff Oden lives in Hatteras village and is a commercial fisherman.)


Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners: [email protected]
Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the board: [email protected]
All seven Dare commissioners the clerk: [email protected]
School board members and e-mails: http://www.darecountyschoolsonline.com/moxie/board/members/index.shtml

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