are feeling like the critters in the carnival game “Whack-a-Mole” as
they grapple with the looming increase in ferry tolls on the Swan
Quarter and Cedar Island ferries mandated by the state legislature last
feel that it’s just one more thing this tiny island is getting whacked
than 180 islanders attended a public meeting sponsored by the North
Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division in the Ocracoke
School Gym on Wednesday night, Jan. 17, to hear Paul Morris, deputy
transit director, explain how the agency developed its ferry toll
increase scenarios and to seek input.
a dozen islanders spoke, and all were against raising the sound-class
ferry rates, noting it would kill tourism—the main industry on the
island—thus killing the livelihoods of the 900 permanent
residents. Several said they didn’t support any of the
were presented by Morris; Harold Thomas, ferry division director; Will
Letchworth of CDM Smith, the consulting firm that did the ferry toll
study, and Jamille Robbins, an NCDOT official. No
tolling plan must be in place by April 1, Morris said.
times, Morris stressed that his department is powerless to rescind the
directive and is mandated to devise a plan that will raise the $5
million in revenue the legislators want in three years. Currently, the
Ferry Division raises about $2 million in revenues.
hear you,” he said. “We see nothing good in this, and it is painful for
us, but this is a law passed by the General Assembly,” he
“We have to follow it. The only way to change this is to
explained that they studied ferry systems throughout the nation and
came up with four models to raise revenue on five of the seven routes,
with Hatteras-Ocracoke and the Knotts Island ferries remaining free.
all the tolled routes, the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries are
the most expensive to run at $2 per mile, according to
Passenger car fees could increase to $25 to $33 under the various
scenarios, up from the $15 current price, thus making a round-trip to
visit Swan Quarter, the county seat, cost up to
Walk-ons, bicycles, motorcycles, even passengers in cars, would rise
from no charge to $15.
$50 to $60 for a round trip to visit the county seat, Swan Quarter, was
cited by many as unfair. Many residents also noted that people who live
on Ocracoke don’t commute daily to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island,
although they do take trips to Swan Quarter for official business, such
as jury duty and other business at the county courthouse.
double this ferry toll will cripple the system,” noted Jerry Gaskill of
Cedar Island, who was the Ferry Division Director for 13
“You’re going to lose traffic by 25 percent and will lose $8 million in
revenue,” he said.
urged those in attendance to contact legislators about their concerns.
heard about the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ in Alaska?” he said. “We’re going
to have a $60 million ferry system to nowhere. Contact your
legislators and say we’re not going to do this.”
O’Neal, a native Ocracoker and former ferry captain, said that if the
state needs revenue, it should toll I-95.
have singled out an island that is 13 miles long and three miles wide,”
he said a few times. “We do not need to do this. It’s wrong.”
is totally picking on a small group of people,” said Theresa O’Neal,
who owns the Island Ragpicker.
is an outrageous increase for those on fixed incomes on the island,”
said Brian Warren. “Y’all are just working to dig a hole
for these people. It’s really going to be a hardship.
ferry system is part of the highway system, several noted.
owe them a road,” said Paul Spruill, CEO of Tideland Electric, who also
said that increased tolls would trickle down to increased costs for
electricity for residents.
residents noted that the Ferry Division budget is a minute portion of
the overall transportation budget – just 1 percent.
Ferry Division cost is like a flea on a dog’s back out of the whole
transportation budget,” said David Styron.
County Commissioner Darlene Styron, who represents Ocracoke, said that
though the state wants to make more revenue from the ferry system,
state coffers will receive even less revenue as tourists go elsewhere
to spend their money.
don’t think an increase in tolls is needed,” she said. “I don’t stand
behind any of these.”
also stressed that exemptions from ferry fees that islanders now enjoy,
such as for medical appointments, education, and jury duty and for
county workers, must remain.
Emergency Medical Service deputy director Brian Carter asked that EMS
workers be exempt from paying the toll or else they will decline to
work for the county, which would force him to drop one of the two
ambulances. In the summer tourist season, Ocracoke Island
two ambulances since the population can swell to 10,000.
an ambulance in the summer is not an option for me,” he said.
County Commissioner chairwoman Sharon Spencer, with a catch in her
voice, said that this effort to raise ferry tolls breaks her heart.
ashamed of the government that I work for that they would shove this
down peoples’ throats without trying to find out the impact it has on
them,” she said. “They do more studies for birds than they do
he did not attend the meeting, islander Ken DeBarth likened beleaguered
Ocracoke to the “Whack-a-Mole” game.
time we look up we’re getting whacked with something else,” he
said. “First it’s the Coast Guard, which last
decided that the weight limits on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry needed to
be enforced); then it’s the birds; then the NPS with beach permits;
then it’s ferry tolls...”
taxing will effectively kill this small place, he noted.
not toll the Wright Memorial Bridge (over the Currituck Sound in Kitty
Hawk) that serves all of the Outer Banks?” he said. “Revenue from that
could be spread around to us.”
noted that the several meetings the Transportation Department is doing
around the coast were not part of the legislative directive but were
ordered by Gov. Bev Perdue.
to Morris’s presentation, Bradford Sneeden, a policy advisor for
Perdue, read a statement from the governor.
never supported these tolls,” he read. “It is unjust and
a tax on the workers, but I am not lawfully able to overturn this
tax. I stand with you when I vetoed this budget last June 13.”
concluded by saying that a formal public hearing will take place in
Raleigh once the rates are in place, but those hearings will not affect
the outcome. A date for that hearing has not been set.
more information, contact Jamille Robbins, NCDOT- Human Environment
Unit at 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-1598, (919) 707-6085 or
[email protected] Additional written comments regarding the proposed
project may be submitted to Robbins until Feb. 16.
view a presentation on the NCDOT Ferry Division’s options for rate
increases, go to http://www.slideshare.net/NCDOTComOffice/presentation-ferry-tolling-10911226