NPS gets extension for final ORV
Boyle status conference
By JAMES LEA
relaxed, convivial atmosphere filled the federal courtroom in Raleigh
yesterday afternoon as Federal District Court Judge Terrence Boyle led
the fourth review of the consent decree that has controlled public
access to the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore since 2008.
The consent decree settled a lawsuit filed against the Park Service by
Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society over the
seashore lack of an off-road vehicle regulation. The two
environmental groups were represented by the Southern Environmental Law
In a short period of time, the court approved an extension of the
deadline for completion of the National Park Service’s new ORV
management plan to Nov. 15, and acknowledged the Park Service’s planned
response to the threatened U.S. government shutdown -- close all the
Other than Judge Boyle, the court reporter, the bailiff, and other
functionaries, there were few participants and citizen
Rudy Renfert, the Department of Justice attorney representing the Park
Service, was joined at the defendant’s table by seashore Superintendent
Mike Murray and chief seashore law enforcement ranger Paul
As at previous status conferences, no NPS biologists or species
monitoring specialists were present. Across the aisle at the
plaintiff’s table were SELC attorneys Julie Youngman and Geoff
Gisler. SELC’s Raleigh office director, Derb Carter, was
conspicuous by his absence.
Dare County Manager and Attorney Bobby Outten and Ron Prentiss of the
Elizabeth City law firm of Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland were
there for the intervenors – Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance
and Dare and Hyde counties -- but were offered no real voice in the
Boyle called for an opening statement from Rudy Renfert for the
Renfert stood to announce that the conference was being held to review
progress on approving and putting in force the new NPS plan to provide
resource protection on the seashore beaches. The court was
he said, that a motion had been filed on March 25 to extend the consent
decree’s deadline for completing the rule making.
The original deadline passed and the interim management plan expired on
April 1. Despite Renfert’s assurance during the Dec. 2 status
conference that the new plan would be published in the Federal
Register, an important rule-making waypoint, by or soon after Jan. 1,
the documents are still under review by the Solicitor
Boyle asked if the plan will be published this year. There
brief discussion of whether “this year” meant this calendar year or
this breeding season for shorebirds, waterbirds and turtles.
Without resolving that question, the judge and the defendant’s attorney
agreed that the deadline for getting the new management plan in force
will be extended to Nov.15. Until then, management of
beach access will continue under the consent decree.
Renfert informed the court that the NPS has a contingency plan in place
to deal with the threatened shutdown of the federal
All seashore staff except law enforcement officers will be off duty,
and the beaches will be closed with barriers at the ramps.
Judge Boyle then asked for a report on the seashore’s 2010 experience
under the consent decree.
Julie Youngman of the SELC deferred to Superintendent Murray,
stood to summarize his annual report for 2010, which had been issued in
January. The season had set several records for breeding
by the species covered by the consent decree, Murray said.
pairs of piping plovers produced 15 chicks that fledged.
chicks fledged from 23 pairs of oystercatchers. Sea turtles
nested in record numbers -- 153 nests compared with 104 nests in
The three years of the consent decree, Murray stated, were the best for
turtle breeding success in many years. But, he added quickly,
those successes resulted from a combination of factors, and no single
factor can be pinpointed as the linchpin. Weather, for
was favorable in 2010, with no head-on hits from hurricanes and little
damage to breeding sites from northeasters.
The judge then asked for a beach closures report. Murray
that access to Bodie Island beaches was closed for a total of 106 days
in 2010, with specific stretches of the beach closed at varying times
for varying durations. Cape Point was closed to pedestrians
55 days and to vehicles for 69 days, and Ocracoke’s South Point was
closed for 129 days.
The judge asked about vehicle access on major holidays.
replied that approximately 1,000 vehicles were on the beach during the
Memorial Day holiday. That’s about two-thirds or half the
of ORVs that were out there before the closure, the judge
speculated. Actually, said Stevens, the Memorial Day record
Then Murray provided what he called law enforcement numbers.
total of 1,060 citations for various infractions were issued in 2010,
compared with 1,095 in 2009. DUI tickets totaled 53, 26 of
issued on the beach. Twenty-five Virginians were cited, along
with 17 North Carolinians and 11 persons from various other
states. Among other actions, rangers cited five persons for
deliberate violations of enclosures, compared with 10 citations in
Boyle seemed surprised to learn that 9,800 night beach driving permits
were issued in 2010 and astounded that no fees were collected for the
It’s hard to find any negative impacts of the consent decree,
judge observed and Murray agreed. The subject
without mention of economic or cultural impacts.
Judge Boyle asked the Dare County representatives if they objected to
extending the deadline for completion of the Park Service’s management
plan to Nov. 15, and they said they did not.
The consent decree status conference lasted little more than half an
hour. The SELC attorneys, Julie Youngman and Geoff Gisler,
hardly at all, except to agree that Superintendent Mike Murray should
present the 2010 status report and to formally accept the deadline
extension. The attorney for the NPS, Rudy Renfert, presented
positions of both the NPS and the SELC. Several items of
interest – including the impact of NPS budget cuts on the
infrastructure improvements and personnel additions called for in the
proposed new beach access management plan – never came to the
Judge Boyle appeared content with the proceeding and its outcomes and
adjourned without mentioning a future status conference
Lea lives in Chapel Hill and also owns a home in Buxton. He
professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at