Beach Access and Park Issues
November 16, 2010

Initial response to Final Environmental Impact Statement is muted

By IRENE NOLAN


The initial response to the National Park Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on ORV regulation on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been muted so far.

That is predictable when the document involved runs more than 1,000 pages and comes in two volumes. The main document runs more than 700 pages with 427 pages of appendices.
Most people, including advocacy groups on both sides of the issue of resource protection versus access to the seashores beaches, are trying to mine what exactly is in the document that will guide the National Park Service off-road vehicle regulation for decades.

The environmental groups – National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife -- that filed a lawsuit in October, 2007, against the Park Service over what they see as inadequate resource protection, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center that represented the groups, said in a media release today that they are evaluating.

The Outer Banks Preservation Association and other groups that advocate for more “reasonable” access are evaluating.

Dare County, which as a defendant-intervenor on the side of the National Park Service in the lawsuit, is also evaluating.

Online message boards and forums have even been fairly quiet, considering the importance of the document.

“I knew all along it wouldn't be good, but thought it would be at least a little better than this,” one person posted on the Red Drum Tackle Shop’s online forum.

“It looks like the fat lady has sung,” said another in a post. “Thanks, NPS, for listening. Your approval rating is ZERO!”

The Island Free Press has received a few responses already to an article about the FEIS, which was posted yesterday afternoon.

“Let's not mince words,” wrote one reader from Maryland. “Alternative F violates the charter that created CHNRA. Mike Murray should be put in jail and the so called ‘National Park Service’ should be disbanded for this conversion of public parkland into a special interest refuge. How can this be allowed to happen in a democratic society?”

The release from the environmental groups noted they “will evaluate the plan to ensure it balances the interests of all seashore users and fulfills the park service’s responsibility to preserve the seashore’s natural resources, including rare sea turtles, birds, and their young, for present and future generations.”

However, the groups also made it clear that they were not totally happy either in their release, which was headlined, “Preferred alternative plan falls short.”

“The preferred alternative announced yesterday falls short of the U.S. Department of Interior’s own scientists’ recommendations regarding the measures needed to protect wildlife within the national park,” the release said.

 “The Park Service’s final rules must provide adequate vehicle-free space and protections for both pedestrians and wildlife, while still allowing responsible beach driving in some areas,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to working with the Park Service to build on the success of this record-breaking year.”

The release notes that Alternative F allows ORV use on the “majority of the seashore” – 28 of 67 miles – and that “only” 26 miles are designated as year-round vehicle-free areas “for pedestrians, families, and wildlife.” The remaining 13 miles of seashore are seasonally open to ORVs.

And the environmental groups again point to record numbers for nesting sea turtles and fledged piping plover chicks on the seashore this year, along with facts and figures showing the Dare County occupancy and sales taxes were up this summer, including a record-setting July.

“As demonstrated by record numbers of visitors and wildlife this year, it is entirely possible for Cape Hatteras to be responsibly shared and enjoyed,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.  “We hope the Park Service’s final plan will strike an appropriate balance that meets the needs of the seashore’s many users.”

“Numbers since 2008 demonstrate that under science-based wildlife management, nesting birds and turtles can rebound, tourism can thrive, and wildlife and people can share the beach at Cape Hatteras,” said Walker Golder, acting executive director of Audubon North Carolina. “The Park Service’s plan currently falls short of providing adequate science-based, year-round protections for the seashore’s natural resources.”

John Couch, who is president of the OBPA, said about the FEIS that “no one has a clear idea of the big picture yet”

At last night’s regular OBPA board meeting, the group began preparing to tackle the document and provide its members an update on what they can expect under the Park Service’s preferred alternative.

In general, Couch said, the National Park service has responded only too well to its mandate of providing resource protection but has failed miserably into its mission to provide for public recreation.

“They have just chosen to ignore the recreation part of their mission,” Couch said.

What has the Park Service done recently, he asked, to further its mission of providing recreation, such as fishing or swimming or surfing?

“Look at the East Coast Surfing Championships at the Lighthouse,” he said. “(The Park Service) has almost single-handedly run them out of there.”

Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, was more cynical in his response to his initial look at the FEIS.

“(SELC attorney) Derb Carter could have written it in ’05 and saved us a lot of time and energy.”


FOR MORE INFORMATION


To read the environmental groups’ entire media release, go to http://www.defenders.org/newsroom/press_releases_folder/2010/11_16_2010_groups_seek_responsible_orv_management_at_cape_hatteras.php

For a direct link to the FEIS:
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=10641&documentID=37448

For a direct link to the red-lined version of the FEIS (with additions and deletions from draft plan highlighted in red):
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=10641&documentID=37451





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