March 14, 2013
Ocracokers tell state to eliminate
all ferry tolls at DOT hearing
By CONNIE LEINBACH
all tolls on ferries in North Carolina is the new rallying cry for
Ocracoke and other coastal areas that have access by ferries.
was the message Wednesday night, Nov. 13, during a public hearing in
the Ocracoke School gym on the state legislature’s quest to raise $5
million in revenue, up from $2 million last year, in the state
Department of Transportation Ferry Division budget. The hearing
was conducted by employees of the NCDOT. Although no legislators
attended, about 160 Ocracoke residents did.
senior public involvement officer for NCDOT, conducted the
hearing. He said the DOT came up its recommended tolling plan in
response to the legislators’ adoption of a new resolution in January
directing the division to establish ferry tolls.
is a continuation of the action in 2011 when the General Assembly
mandated the ferry division to increase ferry toll revenue.
Former Gov. Bev Perdue ordered a one-year moratorium on this mandate,
which expired in January.
The DOT’s plan outlined Wednesday
night would raise fees on the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries by
more than twice the current price, including a $5 fee for all
Attendees at Wednesday evening’s hearing said
eliminating all ferry tolls would attract more tourists to the coastal
areas which would translate into more business and more tax revenues.
is bad legislation that taxes people and doesn’t raise revenue,” said
Greg Piner, a Pamlico County resident who traveled to Ocracoke to
attend the hearing. “We don’t need tolls at all. It costs $1
million to raise $2 million in tolls.”
The gasoline tax hits
everyone and should suffice for transportation costs, several speakers
pointed out. Why not raise that tax by a fraction?
“If they were
serious about raising the gas tax, it would go up one tenth of one
percent and would cost the average North Carolinian $.75 a year,” Piner
Piner revealed that representatives Paul Tine, a Democrat
who represents several coastal counties, including Hyde and Dare and
Charles Jeter, a Republican from Charlotte are planning to introduce
legislation to eliminate all the tolls.
We need to look at the ferry system as an asset, not as a burden, said Frank Brown of Ocracoke.
ferries contributed $320 million in tourism revenue,” he
said. He questioned why there had not been a long-term
study as to the economic impact that raising tolls would have on the
“If we were a bird or a turtle, you bet there would have been a study,” he said, receiving applause.
has gone down drastically in recent years, noted Jerry Gaskill of Cedar
Island, who is a former director of the Ferry Division.
money it takes to collect the tolls would be better used for
advertising for tourists,” he said. “If we continue to raise
tolls, we won’t have anything here.”
Rudy Austin, president of
the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, noted that many who grew
up here several decades ago had to go off the island to get jobs.
“When I grew up there was no ferry,” he said. “The ferry has enabled us to have the community we have here.”
lives depend on the DOT assets,” added Tom Pahl, who also pointed out
that the chairman of the House Transportation Committee lives on Oak
Island, where he can go without paying a toll.
“Should the people on Ocracoke be treated any differently than the chairman of the House Transportation Committee?” he asked.
Gaskill, vice president of the OCBA, noted that it’s wrong to think of
the ferry system as a profit center instead of a service to the people.
“An increase in ferry tolls can’t help but have a negative effect,” he said.
engineer who conducted a survey last year for the DOT, Will Letchworth
of CDM Smith, Raleigh, was at the meeting and confirmed that his
research showed that the state would incur costs to build the
infrastructure needed to collect tolls on untolled ferries and that
there would be a decrease in ridership if tolls were raised.
“Yes, there will be a decrease in tourists and revenues,” Letchworth said. “That has been reported back to the Legislature.”
appointed Hyde County manager Bill Rich of Ocracoke pointed out that
the approximately 150 businesses in the county depend on tourism, which
is the biggest industry in the county.
Moreover, making county
service employees and school buses pay a toll along with passenger
fares will increase the already tight county and school district
budgets, noted both Megan Shaw, information officer for the county, and
Dr. Randolph Latimore, superintendent of Hyde County Schools.
are against all ferry taxes—period,” said Henri McClees, one of a team
of lobbyists hired by Hyde, Beaufort and Pamlico counties to represent
the coast in Raleigh. “The legislature is the problem and the
legislature is the solution. You need to bombard them with e-mails that
we will not tolerate this.”
Henri and her husband, Joe, are the lobbyist team.
enemy is not the DOT,” Joe McClees said. “The enemy is the ignorance in
the legislature. If you really love where you live, you need to
One third of the House legislators are new to their jobs, Henri said.
do have good legislators who understand the issue and are fired up, but
we need to educate the others about the coast,” she said.
Ocracoke group is organizing under the OCBA to continue to rally
residents to respond to this issue. A meeting will be held tonight at 7
p.m. in the Community Center to organize Ocracoke’s response.