Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 20, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Many Ocracoke businesses are unhappy with Dare’s
visitor re-entry decision
...WITH SLIDE SHOW

By CONNIE LEINBACH



While Ocracoke residents and business owners are sympathetic to Hatteras Island’s plight in the wake of Hurricane Irene, many are not happy with Dare County’s decision to allow visitors back to the southern villages via Ocracoke.

Visitors to Ocracoke are encountering sold-out ferry routes and Ocracoke businesses are finding that vendors are having difficulties getting rides.

“It’s terrible,” noted Tommy Hutcherson, owner of the Variety Store.

He said his vendors have had trouble getting to the island via both the Stumpy Point and Swan Quarter ferries. “We were fine until Hatteras reopened.”

He said he had vendors stuck in traffic eight hours at Stumpy Point.

“One was 12 hours (into his total work hours) before he could even deliver to us,” Hutchinson said.

He has had limited vendor deliveries, but his shelves show a good stock of staples.

While Sept. 17-18 was the first weekend of visitor re-entry to Hatteras, he said next weekend, when they and the Ocracoke vacationers all want to leave, might see a traffic jam on Ocracoke.

Some, such as Fred Westervelt, owner of The Cove Bed and Breakfast, are concerned that the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative might be overwhelmed by the demand for power.
 
Others have expressed support for Hatteras visitors, noting Ocracokers have to make the best of it.

“Dare County has been a great neighbor to us as 80 percent of our business comes through them,” said Frank Brown, owner of Natural Selections on School Road. “Often, the shoe is on the other foot -- with Dare helping us. Now, we’re helping Dare.”

Other business owners on the island, who met Sept. 14 during the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting, shortly after Dare County made the announcement allowing visitor re-entry, agreed with Hutcherson.

"Dare County's decision to allow tourists to return to Hatteras via Ocracoke was extremely careless,” said Daphne Bennink, owner of The Back Porch Restaurant and chairwoman of the Hatteras-Ocracoke Island Council of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.  That chamber presented a resolution to Dare County last Thursday asking that the decision to allow visitors to southern Hatteras be reversed.

“Clearly, no consideration was given to the impact it would have on Ocracoke's recovery efforts, and it would seem not enough was given to their very  own,” Bennink said.
“While our efforts were previously focused on encouraging visitors to return to Ocracoke, we're now in full tilt damage control mode in dealing with the multitude of visitors who are committed to coming to Ocracoke and/or Hatteras but cannot get here."  

Hyde County commissioner, Darlene Styron, who represents Ocracoke, noted at the Monday, Sept. 19, Board of Commissioner meeting that there was a lack of communication from Dare County to both Ocracoke and the Ferry Division when that decision was made last week.

She has been fielding phone calls and added that a lot of things happen that the commissioners don’t have a say in.

“We need to make sure that when we evaluate the Irene response that we include Dare in the evaluation and plan for this next year,” Styron said. 
   
Residents reported a two-mile traffic back-up in the early morning hours Sunday for the 6 a.m. Swan Quarter ferry.

Business owners on Ocracoke this weekend noted that business has been unsteady. Many have abbreviated hours, as would be typical for later in the fall.

“We’re having late-fall numbers,” noted B.J. Oelschlegel, owner of the Slushy Stand, which sells ice cream and coffee and rents bicycles. “Usually at this time of the year we’re pretty busy.”

“It’s the second weekend after the island opened up (after Hurricane Irene), and we have no idea what to expect in terms of customers,” added Sarah Whitlock, who works at the stand.

But it’s not just the damage on Hatteras and Pea islands. It’s also the damage throughout the East Coast, she noted, which may also be affecting peoples’ decisions to come to the Outer Banks for vacation.

Day trippers, the lifeblood of most businesses on Ocracoke, have virtually dried up.

“What day trippers?” asked Rufus Keel, owner of the Sunglass Shop.

But Frank Brown noted he had some day visitors from Emerald Isle over the weekend.

“But that’s expensive,” he said about the $30 round-trip cost for a ferry ride that a day-tripper would have to shell out.

Ashley and Jason Harrell, owner of Lula Belles, reported on Sunday that some of the Hatteras visitors going through the village had stopped in.

“We’ve had people saying they will stop a night in Ocracoke on the way in and on the way back,” she said.

This reporter rode the Cedar Island ferry Saturday afternoon. More than half of the 48 vehicles on the ferry were headed to Hatteras Island.

Interviews with some of those on the ferry showed that they are sympathetic to Ocracoke’s plight, too.

“The Outer Banks is our favorite place,” said Linda Hall, who, with her husband Sam, was headed to Frisco. “It’s so sad what happened from the hurricane.” 

She said her party plans to visit Ocracoke mid-week to help support the businesses here.

Angel and Ricky Poovey of Durham noted they, too, will visit Ocracoke after they get settled.

“We want to spend some of our money on Ocracoke, too,” Poovey said. “It’s been hard for everyone.”

Rental companies are scrambling to help vacationers who can’t get weekend ferry reservations to modify their vacations to come a day before or day after their scheduled week.

“We’ve been pretty lucky with people cooperating,” noted Cherie Ely, an assistant at Blue Heron Realty.

She said some rental home owners are allowing vacationers to change their dates and are trying to be creative about how to get folks onto the island.

The companies also have been working ahead by calling folks who have future vacations to make ferry reservations now.

Collectively, it’s a waiting game.

“As soon as they can get 12 South open, the better it will be for all of us,” Brown said.



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