Boyle’s status conference on new
off-road vehicle plan is uneventful
By JAMES LEA
status conferences called by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle
to review the Park Service’s off-road vehicle management plan have long
since seemed to morph from somber judicial proceedings into cordial
gatherings of old friends.
At the Jan. 23 conference at
the federal courthouse in Elizabeth City, the bailiff called out “All
rise” when Judge Boyle entered the courtroom as the court reporter
clicked away on her shorthand machine. At that point, the
conference became a forum for all plaintiffs’ attorneys and the judge
to be certain that the official court record documents show how right
they’ve been all along.
Hatteras Island and several citizens’ organizations were well
represented on the spectators’ benches. Dare County
chairman Warren Judge and county manager Bobby Outten represented the
intervenors in the lawsuit that led to the consent decree under which
beach access was managed until the Park Service’s new ORV plan went
into effect in February, 2012. Also present were John Couch,
Keene, and David Scarborough of the Outer Banks Preservation
Association and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance.
Carter and Julie Youngman led a contingent of plaintiffs’ attorneys
from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which filed the
lawsuit in 2007 for Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon
Rudy Renfer of the Department of Justice spoke for
the National Park Service. Renfer shared the defendant’s
with the recently appointed Cape Hatteras National Seashore
superintendent, Barkley Trimble, and the Seashore’s chief enforcement
ranger, Paul Stevens.
Boyle opened the session by announcing
that its purpose was to hear a report on the new ORV management
plan. Julie Youngman of the SELC rose to announce that she
not have a full report, but she offered the judge several charts that
had been prepared from NPS data and the Dare County website.
said he didn’t need to see the charts, that he would just
He wanted the seashore superintendent to testify about beach driving
numbers during the first year the NPS plan has been in effect, so
Renfer directed Trimble to take the stand. Judge Boyle waved
aside the customary witness’s oath, saying to Trimble, “You’ll tell us
the truth, won’t you?”
Trimble told the court that in 2012, more
than 8,000 annual beach driving permits and some 23,770 weekly permits
had been sold. Sales revenues totaled $2,152,890, of which
$964,440 came from annual permits and $1,188,450 from weekly permits.
judge asked Trimble how many permit purchasers actually drive on the
beach. Trimble answered that vehicle counting devices have
installed on Ramp 4 on Bodie Island, Ramps 44 and 55 on Hatteras, and
Ramp 72 on Ocracoke. Data are collected daily from the four
ramps. If there’s ever any concern that the devices are
vehicles leaving the beach as well as those entering the beach, the
numbers can be corrected by dividing by two.
Are more people or
fewer people using the beaches under the plan, Judge Boyle
Trimble said the 2011 count was 240,394 vehicles entering the seashore
beaches, and in 2012 the number was 285,000. So, said the
there was an increase in utilization, right? Trimble said he
unfamiliar with some of the data.
Renfer stepped in with data on
violations of permits and other regulations. Speeding
he said, declined from more than 200 in 2011 to 23 in 2012.
Almost negligible, said the judge.
The law of unintended
consequences is in effect, Judge Boyle declared. There is a
higher intensity of beach driving, a better environmental posture, and
users taking more pleasure in the beaches. Derb Carter of the
SELC agreed, rising to cite reapportionment of the beaches for use by
pedestrians, drivers, and protected species.
“Everyone’s interests are being served,” observed the judge.
“It’s all positive from our perspective,” nodded Carter.
asked Trimble if it would be fair to say that 2012 had seen a drop from
one-third to 50 percent -- maybe up to 75 percent -- in driving and
closure trespass violations. Without citing hard statistics,
Trimble agreed that it would be fair.
Then Renfer turned
to Carter for an analysis of the plan’s wildlife impact.
Youngman of the SELC spoke instead, citing numbers from various NPS
reports. She told the court that in 2011, the latest data
available, piping plover nesting was the highest since 1992.
Eleven plover chicks fledged in 2012. Sea turtle nest numbers
2012 tripled the number in 2008 before the consent decree was
No explanations of those numbers were offered.
However, when Judge Boyle said that the improvement in turtle nesting
was because the turtles are most susceptible to casualties from night
beach driving, Youngman quickly concurred. “That was my conclusion,
She added that SELC is still waiting for the NPS annual reports on the
status of wildlife, due on Jan. 31.
who have followed Judge Boyle’s status conferences for the past several
years might recall that similar testimony by former seashore
superintendent Mike Murray always included a caveat that such changes
in wildlife numbers could not attributed to beach closures or any other
The judge turned back to Trimble, still on the witness stand.
“Who designates the closures, their locations, duration?
Those things vary, right?”
Trimble answered, “Those things come to my desk.”
“Do you keep data on the receding and expanding of the closures’ size
and their duration year to year?” Boyle asked.
“The data are gathered,” Trimble answered, “but we have no conclusions.”
“We need a factual consideration of more or less driving, changes in
the closures,” Boyle insisted.
Then, following his propensity for irony that he himself seems not to
recognize, Boyle went on.
been too much speculation. The speculation needs to be
by facts. The data need to be published for the NPS, for
and federal governments, for the public.”
Turning back to permit
sales, Boyle asked Trimble about uses made of the permit
revenues. Trimble replied that the revenues stay in the
and are used for personnel salaries, interpreters, biotechnicians who
monitor the wildlife, and equipment that will used for eventual
facilities improvements under the ORV management plan. NPS
not intend to increase the permit fees.
Boyle then asked if
there were additional questions or statements from any of the
parties. There were none. Superintendent Trimble
the judge that to his knowledge neither the Department of the Interior
or the Park Service has any intention of make changes in the management
Carter reminded the court that there has been no action on
the bills introduced into the last Congress to rescind the current NPS
management plan. Boyle said that those bills were dead as of
3. He and Carter agreed that no new legislation was in
concluded by thanking all status conference participants and assured
everyone that his court will continue to monitor the situation and be
available to meet the needs of all parties. The court stood
recess after a session lasting fewer than 30 minutes.
no mention of the lawsuit filed last February by the Cape Hatteras
Access Preservation Alliance against the Park Service to stop the ORV
plan. In that case, Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon Society
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in
Washington, D.C., but transferred to the Eastern District of North
Carolina in late December. It has been assigned to Boyle.
comments powered by