Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 16, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Chamber joins tourism board in urging county to revisit decision on visitors

By IRENE NOLAN

The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce joined the Dare County Tourism Board in passing a resolution urging Dare County to revisit its decision to allow visitors into the southern Hatteras Island villages, beginning yesterday.

The Tourism Board passed its resolution Thursday morning, and, according to the chamber, its board also passed the resolution yesterday.

After more than a week of publicly saying that there would be no visitor re-entry to Hatteras until at least after Sept. 17, Dare County announced late Monday that visitors would be allowed back to Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras villages, beginning Thursday, Sept. 15.

The northern villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo – heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27 – remained closed to visitors.  A law enforcement road block at Ramp 23, just south of the villages, is stopping visitors from traveling there.

Highway 12 remains closed during temporary repairs to the road, which was cut by inlets and breaches in Pea Island. It is expected to re-open sometime in early October.

The visitor re-entry is allowed only via ferries from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island through Ocracoke.

Those ferries require reservations, and they were immediately snapped up by visitors with reservations on Hatteras next week.  In fact, those ferries are booked solid for at least the next couple weekends.

The visitor re-entry has been accompanied by a great deal of controversy on Hatteras.

It was strongly opposed by rental management companies, who are being besieged by unhappy guests who are caught in no-win situation.

The ferries are limited in how many vehicles they can move, so not all of those with reservations for next week, and some weeks after that, can get to Hatteras.  And, since the state of emergency has been rescinded and visitors are now allowed, some visitors with trip insurance are being told they won’t be compensated if they can’t get here.

In fact, some had already booked other reservations north of Oregon Inlet, so now are left with two rentals for next week.

On the other hand, the visitor re-entry has been favored by many small businesses on southern Hatteras, where there was little damage. Yet the business owners and workers are taking a huge financial hit because they have been closed for three weeks.

And county officials have said that the main reason they allowed visitor re-entry was to get Hatteras islanders back to work.

Some small businesses have re-opened or will this weekend, even though they will get only a small percentage of the visitors who had planned vacations.

In its resolution, the chamber said is opposed reopening to visitors because of the “humanitarian crisis due to the tragedy left by the hurricane being faced by the labor force.”

Also, the chamber cited that allowing visitors in now undermined the “integrity of the business community,” strained limited infrastructure and resources, and overwhelmed the carry capacity of the ferry system.

The resolution recommends that “the powers, bodies or persons that control decisions regarding re-entry to Hatteras Island immediately revisit the decision to authorize visitor re-entry.’

The board says that the decision should be “rescinded effective immediately with the caveat that visitors who have existing ferry reservations in place as of today for the next full booking week may enter.”

In response, Dare County manager Bobby Outten said, that while he could not speak for the commissioners, he thinks that reversing the decision now would not be practical.

He said it would require going back and issuing another state of emergency, which involves too many details.

“I’m the one that pushed,” added Allen Burrus of Hatteras, vice-chairman of the commissioners. “And if they have a problem, it’s with me.”

“Who do I represent in this process” Burrus asked.  “I chose to represent the people I think need the most help, the workers.”

“It’s been gut-wrenching,” he said, but added “I am sleeping well at night.”

The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit business membership organization representing 1,000 business members on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.


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