Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival has shifted to other locations
several events planned for this week on Pea Island National Wildlife
Refuge after an eruption of public outrage about the group being given
access to the area, which is closed to the public.
Over Water festival is scheduled to begin tomorrow and run through
Sunday with events showcasing the nature and wildlife on the Outer
Banks. It attracts birders but also brings history enthusiasts,
nature lovers, paddlers, astronomers and photographers, both novice and
skilled, for an assortment of programs all over Dare County.
festival is sponsored by the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, and all
proceeds go to that group. It is a local group with a local board
whose main mission is to support both Pea Island and Alligator River
refuges and provide educational programs for the public and for
The festival organizers have had to make several
adjustments to the schedule because of Hurricane Sandy impacts on the
Outer Banks. Programs in Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands have
been cancelled. Most programs on Hatteras Island – including tours of
Cape Point and Buxton Wood maritime forest, photography workshops, and
an earth-caching event will go on, but participants have been notified
that they will have to use the ferries and been advised to spend the
night on Hatteras. The participants have been provided with
contacts for local accommodations.
The organizers relocated some
Pea Island events, but last week asked permission from the North
Carolina Department of Transportation to allow them to transport people
to the refuge Visitor Center for a program at the South Pond.
Strawser, visitor services manager of the refuges and an ex-officio
member of the refuge society board, made the request, contingent upon
sand being cleared off the road from the Bonner Bridge to the Visitor
Jerry Jennings, Division I engineer, says the request
was granted with “very controlled” stipulations. All participants
would have to be transported by vans or buses by the festival
organizers and no private cars would be allowed. Organizers would
have to provide information in advance on when they would be coming and
When an e-mail about the programs on Pea Island began circulating over the weekend, the public outrage was immediate.
were outraged that anyone was getting “special treatment” to travel on
a bridge and stretch of road closed to the public, but many also
associate birders with special interest groups that have sued over ORV
use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and are now trying to stop
the DOT’s plan for a Bonner Bridge replacement that is parallel to the
current bridge, instead of a 17.5 alternative that would have bypassed
The National Audubon Society and the Defenders of
Wildlife were the groups that sued the Park Service over ORV access and
Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association have
sued to stop the bridge. Southern Environmental Law Center has
represented the groups in both court actions.
The thought of the
environmental groups getting special access was just too much for many
islanders and visitors who began posting on Facebook and flooding the
e-mail boxes of DOT and other officials with protests.
encouraged by Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County Board of
Commissioners, who sent out this e-mail last evening to an island
“I want you and everyone to know that the DCBOC
has been working on this issue since the news broke on Friday,” Judge
wrote. “I talked with Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer
for NCDOT on Saturday morning as well as district engineer Jerry
Jennings. I shared with both of these men, that our concern is
one of access and equity.
“I expressed the
disappointment that on Thursday a public statement was made
by NCDOT there would be no access either one lane, or one way
at a time, or a four-wheel drive route through Pea Island, leaving
our only access on and off the island to be the ferry system. The
next day we hear that a special interest group, Audubon, working with
USFWS, is wrangling their way to have exclusive and discriminatory
rights of access.”
Actually, Audubon is not involved at all with
Wings Over Water, though some participants may be members.
However, the local refuge society is an affiliate of the National
Wildlife Refuge Association, which is a party to the lawsuit to stop
Islanders began a mass protest through social networking and mass e-mails.
This afternoon, the festival organizers decided to relocate the programs that were to be on the refuge to other locations.
Strawser defended the refuge society, noting that its main goal is
educational outreach and it funds such programs as education in
schools, volunteer projects, and special projects. It provides funds
for school buses to bring youngsters to the refuge and bought a tram to
be used for refuge tours.
The refuge society board, she said, is all about local refuges and it “does not get involved in politics.”
purpose, she noted, of Wings Over Water, which is in its 16th year, is
to bring visitors to eastern North Carolina in the shoulder season.
Festival organizers are not exactly sure how many visitors are
coming this year, but they have signed up to fill 721 program
slots. That’s down somewhat with cancellations after last week’s
One of the islanders outraged today is Beth Midgett,
chairman of the county’s Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge Now and
of the Bridge Moms group.
“I’m supportive of activities that bring people to Hatteras Island to appreciate our natural beauty,” she said.
she has a “huge problem” with the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society’s
affiliation with the National Wildlife Refuge Association and its
Midgett correctly notes that the refuge society is
listed in the lawsuit under the “Parties and Standings” section naming
Here is what it says:
has members who live and work in the general vicinity of Pea Island
National Wildlife Refuge, as well as members from across the country
who visit, recreate, conduct research, work, observe birds and other
wildlife, conduct educational activities, photograph, and otherwise use
and enjoy the public lands, wetlands, and other lands and waters of the
Refuge. NWRA, its staff, and its members derive scientific, aesthetic,
and spiritual benefit from the existence of Pea Island National
Wildlife Refuge and from the abundant wildlife species that depend on
it for habitat, and they value the preservation of the Refuge and the
wildlife of eastern North Carolina. NWRA has a Friends Affiliate group
– Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society – that works specifically to protect
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and nearby Alligator River National
The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society is
also mentioned in SELC’s attempt to try to stop the state from issuing
a Major CAMA permit for the bridge construction.
“I have a
problem with 100 percent of the proceeds of the event going to an
organization that is listed in the lawsuit,” Midgett said.
said that the refuge society pays $250 a year to be a member of a
consortium of friends groups under the umbrella of the National
Wildlife Refuge Association that supports educational programs with
Whether all member of the local refuge society board
were aware that the group was named in the plaintiff section of the
lawsuit is unclear.
However, today, the current president,
Stanley Oliver of Manteo says that he gave a deposition for the
plaintiffs in the lawsuit as a private citizen and not as a member of
the society’s board.
“This is not the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society opposing the bridge,” he said. “It’s me personally.”
Oliver says he doesn’t so much oppose the bridge as he objects that DOT is proceeding without a plan for Highway 12.
says it plans to address the problems of the highway in a phased
approach as needed. It plans to put a permanent bridge where the
new bridge is over the inlet created last year by Hurricane Irene, but
has not said what will be done with the problems at the S-curves and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
to read the deposition given by Stanley Oliver of Manteo, president of
the board of the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, in the lawsuit to
stop the DOT plan to replace the Bonner Bridge. Oliver
testified for the plaintiffs -- Defenders of Wildlife and the National
Wildlife Refuge Association.
Wings Over Water website and information, including programs, http://www.wingsoverwater.org/.
Coast Wildlife Refuge Society information: http://www.coastalwildliferefuge.com/
To read the lawsuit to stop the Bonner Bridge replacement project:
To read about SELC’s request for hearing on the Major CAMA permit: