can return to Ocracoke after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7
commissioners Tuesday night lifted the state of emergency in the county
as of Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 5 p.m., allowing the return of visitors on
Ocracoke Island at that time.
The decision followed discussion as to the best day for re-entry and
the safety measures in place following Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27.
While that leaves the island with two means of public access via toll
ferries from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island, the commissioners’ vote
included a request to County Manager Mazie Smith to work on obtaining
free ferry access for island residents.
“That will probably need the Secretary of Transportation to waive the
fees,” said Sharon Spencer, chairman of the board.
No one knew if a waiver for residents enacted after Hurricane Isabel in
2003, when residents lost access northward via the Hatteras ferry,
would still be applicable or how that was done.
About a dozen Ocracoke residents attended, including Albert O’Neal, the
new ferry operations manager for Ocracoke. During the meeting, O’Neal
placed a call to Harold Thomas in the NCDOT Ferry Division, who relayed
that once the state of emergency is lifted, fees would go back into
During the emergency, the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries were
free for evacuees and returning business owners, residents, property
owners, and essential personnel.
Brian Carter, deputy emergency services director, speaking from the
meeting venue in Swan Quarter, explained that, following the
destruction of infrastructure by the hurricane, safety is paramount.
Tideland Electric Cooperative and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative
only Monday finished installing temporary power lines across the ocean
breaches on Pea Island.
“Tideland said major erosion is still going on at that new inlet,”
Carter said about the restoration of full power on Monday. “But, the
infrastructure is in place and we’ve met the safety standards.”
During the public comment time, Jerry Midgett of Ocracoke said the
county needs to change its strategy for re-entry of residents following
years and never had a problem until last year. This year I had to wait
three days to come back.”
David Scott Esham also commented that getting residents exempt from
paying ferry tolls on the paid routes (when the Hatteras Ferry is out
of commission) should have been done long before this.
As for the hurricane emergency team, the commissioners had uniform
praise for all county employees who put in 14- to 20-hour days during
“I have nothing but the best praise for our emergency response team,”
Spencer said. “We made a plan, we studied it, and we stuck to it. I’ve
had many calls from officials all over the state and some said we set
Smith noted that several county employees had hurricane damage but kept
“They sacrificed attending to their own homes to keep working,” she
Emergency Services Director Justin Gibbs gave a presentation on the
county’s hurricane response effort, detailing what agencies cooperated
and how information was disseminated.
He said 55 homes on the mainland were flooded. Volunteer fire
departments were instrumental in getting provisions to stranded county
residents and informing them as events unfolded.
One aftermath of all the flooding is the increase in mosquitoes, noted
Hyde County Health Officer Wesley Smith.
“We did landing counts and determined there are 20 to 40 per minute,”
Smith said, adding that he will compose a letter declaring the increase
in mosquitoes a health hazard.
He will use this to seek federal help to pay for aerial spraying that
will target the coastland, wetlands, and protected areas. Cost of that
is $840,000 and he will seek federal aid for this.
other business, due to Hurricane Irene, the commissioners extended the
current curbside trash pick-up on the mainland to December 1.
Curbside trash pick-up was scheduled to end in July, and all Hyde
County residents will have to take their trash to several convenience
sites, a few of which still need to be constructed. Earlier in the
summer, the county manager extended the curbside pick-up for Ocracoke
to Jan. 1, and that is still the case.
Clint Berry, public works director, explained thatmainland curbside
pick-up was due to end Oct. 1, but destruction on the
from Hurricane Irene has delayed preparing the convenience sites.
The commissioners also authorized the Ocracoke Civic and Business
Association to spend $25,000 out of the Occupancy Tax Board revenues on
a television marketing campaign for Ocracoke to the areas west of Hyde
from Sept. 12 to Oct. 9.
“So much of our business comes from the northern routes to the island,”
explained Daphne Bennink, owner of The Back Porch Restaurant, who
presented the plan. “But there’s a whole different scenario of how to
get here via Swan Quarter.”
Earlier in the day, the OCBA held a special meeting to approve the
marketing plan. Ocracoke business owners were anxious to resume their
livelihoods that had come to a screeching halt with the arrival of
The possibility of getting the Ferry Division to modify its Cedar
Island ferries to allow Ocracoke residents to go there for supplies and
get back the same day was discussed.
Communication between the Ferry Division and Hyde County seems to have
not been coordinated, noted Esham at this earlier meeting, because
tourists wanting to stay at his motel received conflicting reports as
to when the island would reopen.
Kevin Andrews, a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee, also
attended the meeting to let businesses know that they can apply for
low-interest loans from the Small Business Association through FEMA.
Homeowners may apply for a grant or a loan. The agency also will have a
temporary office in the Ocracoke Community Center Wednesday and
Thursday, Sept. 8 and 9, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In related action at the OCBA meeting, Bennink asked Ocracokers to help
the stricken folks on Hatteras with basic everyday items in a drive
called “The Really Really Free Market.”
“A lot of people lost everything,” she said.
She will be collecting donations at the loading dock of the Back
Porch. Those items include bug spray, sunscreen, shampoo and
conditioner, towels, bedding, fans, de-humidifiers, paper products,
trash bags, dog and cat food, school supplies, baby items, coolers, and
For detailed information about what is needed, call
TO TRAVELERS: There is no access to Hatteras
through Ocracoke for Hatteras non-resident property owners or visitors
to the island. Non-resident property owners should keep
Island Free Press website and the Dare County website at www.darenc.com.
Visitors will not be allowed back on Hatteras until at least Sept. 18.