Island residents and visitors have at least a one-year reprieve from a
rise in ferry tolls, thanks to legislation passed in the 2012-13 North
Carolina state budget.
The $20.2 billion budget passed June 21 with no new or increase in tolls on any ferries in the state.
“Senate bill 187 modified (last year’s) mandate for new and/or higher
tolls,” noted Joe McClees, part of a lobbyist team that includes his
wife, Henri, from Oriental hired by Beaufort, Pamlico and Hyde counties
to fight the tolls. “It does away with all toll increases for
McClees credited the passion of coastal community citizens and
officials for getting legislators across the state to understand this
“We made the ferries one of the top issues in the state,” McClees said.
“We made (the legislators) see that the ferries are part of the highway
McClees noted that House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, was solidly
on the side of islanders, which is different from a year ago.
“If he hadn’t been on our side, we wouldn’t have gotten this through,” McClees said.
McClees urged islanders and friends of Ocracoke to continue to send
letters and e-mails to Tillis and others to thank them for their
support. Among those who stood up for coastal communities are retiring
Democratic Rep. Tim Spear (District 2), Democrat Bill Owens, and
Republican Norman Sanderson (District 3).
Rep. Harold Brubaker from Asheboro, in the middle of the state, also
was a supporter, and noted during the House debate that he had learned
more about ferries in the last few hours (of debate) than he ever
wanted to know, according to McClees.
Last year’s budget battle ended with the Hatteras-Ocracoke and Knotts
Island ferries being exempted from tolling while raising tolls on all
other routes starting April 1.
Gov. Beverly Perdue issued an executive order before that date putting
a moratorium on raising ferry tolls. The ferry toll tax battle
continued until this new budget concluded the issue for this fiscal
The budget passed the legislature on June 21 with no new tolls on the
Knotts Island ferry and the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry and a one-year
moratorium on tolls for the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch ferry.
According to information from the McCleeses, with the passage of Senate Bill 187, with a
push from Rep. Bill Cook (Republican, District 6) in the House,
the Senate agreed to a one-year moratorium on new tolls and a
moratorium on all increases in existing tolls on other ferries.
The Bay River-Aurora ferry would have had a first-time toll starting
immediately but for the efforts of Rep. Cook.
Although the budget was vetoed by Perdue for other reasons on June 29,
the veto was overridden July 2. The specific ferry language begins on
page 129 of the Budget Bill.
But the issue is not over, Joe McClees noted, and there is work to do
until a new General Assembly convenes in January to protect the free
ferries on a permanent basis.
“We wanted a study bill with citizen participation,” said Henri
McClees. “Now it appears the issue may be addressed by the Legislative
Research Commission before the 2013 legislative session.”
For more information on this legislative entity, see LRC site: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/DocumentSites/browseDocSite.asp?nID=147.
Until January, the McCleeses will work on continuing to thank
legislators from both parties and to study the impacts of ferry tolls
on struggling coastal counties.
Darlene Styron, the Hyde County commissioner from Ocracoke, while
thankful for the efforts of all involved, noted that islanders and
coastal citizens cannot let their guard down.
“We will have this issue again next year and we’re still going to have
to band together and stay involved,” she said. “Our
representatives (in the House and Senate) fought strong for us, as did
the McCleeses and everyone who wrote or called.”