April 30, 2013
State representatives visit Ocracoke to talk ferry tolls
…WITH SLIDE SHOW
By CONNIE LEINBACH
state representatives who visited Ocracoke on Friday, April 26, pledged
to do all they can to find an alternative to tolls on all North
The visitors were Paul Tine, a Democrat of
Kitty Hawk, who represents Dare, Hyde, Beaufort and Washington
counties; Charles Jeter, a Republican of Mecklenberg County, and John
A. Torbett, a Republican of Gaston County and co-chairman of the House
Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.
They were part of
a contingent that traveled from Raleigh Thursday to visit the coast for
a first-hand look at what tolling and raising tolls would mean to its
“We are trying to explore every available option to
tolling ferries in North Carolina,” Torbett said during a town meeting
Friday morning in the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of
Teaching. “Revenue from advertising is the same as tolling. I want to
be able to get (the Senate) off (the idea of tolling).”
for whom this was a first visit east of I-95, is a co-sponsor with Tine
of the “Ferry Tolling Alternatives,” House Bill 475, which proposes
that the legislature generate the $5 million they want from the ferry
system through advertising. Riding the ferry was a new
experience, too, for Torbett and his wife, Viddia, who accompanied him
and who is his legislative aide.
The three, along with Tine,
spoke with the ferry workers and got a tour of the pilot house as the
full moon emerged from the days-long cloud cover and lit up the channel.
the way to Ocracoke village, the group stopped at the S-curves along
Highway 12 in northern Rodanthe where the ocean had breached a few
weeks ago to view how close the ocean was to the road.
Before the Friday morning town meeting, the three representatives met a dozen islanders at breakfast in the Berkley Manor.
they and about 50 islanders and Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas
and Deputy Division Director Jed Dixon met in the NCCAT meeting room
where they viewed a PowerPoint presentation that covered a bit of
island history and the unique aspects of an island accessible only by
ferry. It also covered recent problems with the Hatteras ferry
and the compromised Highway 12 in the last two hurricane seasons.
invited all the attendees to introduce themselves. They included
business owners, fishermen, and school and county officials.
He told the assembled group that the larger issue is an overall policy issue.
we’re going to toll, then we need to toll elsewhere, too,” he said.
“But we can’t solve all of our transportation issues with tolls.
We shouldn’t tax the most economically challenged part of the state.”
who is the vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on
Transportation, said he thought that the current tolling situation was
inherently unfair and that this idea to sell advertising was a tool he
was giving us.
“You’re going to have to use it,” he said.
“What we’re talking about is commercializing the ferry system. Y’all
gotta make sure this is something you want to do. If y’all are
comfortable with it, I’ll work my butt off for it.”
after agreeing that he didn’t understand why tolling the ferries was
such a big deal if the entire Transportation Department budget had a
surplus and could absorb it, explained that House Bill 157 would
prohibit any governor from ever taking money from the transportation
fund and using it for another budget priority.
“The real answer is the juice ain’t worth the squeeze,” he said to applause. “Let’s just leave it alone.”
Torbett said that Thomas and Dixon are looking at ways to streamline the Ferry Division budget to help realize more savings.
a short tour of the island in a Hyde County Transit bus and lunch, the
legislators, along with Joe and Henri McClees, the lobbyists hired by
Hyde, Beaufort and Pamlico counties to fight the ferry tolls, the group
left on the Cedar Island ferry where they continued their tour of the coast.
The McCleeses organized the trip and said they hope to bring more legislators to the island.
“My job is to create champions in Raleigh for you and they’re in this room,” Joe McClees told the group in NCCAT.
left here with a clear concept of what this community is and what we’re
faced with, and they said that,” noted Darlene Styron-Doshier, owner of
the Sweet Tooth and an organizer of the trip.
president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, who wasn’t
able to attend but heard feedback, said that Jeter and Torbett got a
handle on what the infrastructure means to the Outer Banks.
“We hope they have a better understanding of our situation,” he said.
islanders face battles on three fronts this legislative term. The first
is to persuade the legislature to vote “yes” on twin bills calling for
the elimination of all tolls on all ferries.
These bills are both
called “Ferry Tolling Alternatives,” and the Senate bill is
sponsored by Bill Cook, who was scheduled to join Tine, Jeter and
Torbett on the Oriental leg of the trip.
In a counter move,
Sens. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia, who co-chairs the Senate
Transportation committee, and Bill Rabon of Southport introduced
“Uniform Ferry Tolling,” SB 660, which calls for tolls on all the
On another front that will hurt Ocracoke economically,
House Bill 983, “2013 Fisheries and Economic Development Act,” would
designate red drum, striped bass and speckled trout as a gamefish
catchable only by hook-and-line. It would prevent the 35 local
commercial fishermen to catch these species, which are then sold to
local restaurants and to the public at the Ocracoke Seafood Company.
If this bill is passed, it will seriously impact Ocracoke commercial fishermen and the Fish House.
makes this bill tricky is the third section of it, which calls for the
allocation of money from the Highway Fund to shallow draft dredging,
including Hatteras Inlet and Silver Lake.
The three legislators took time on Friday to visit the Fish House and talk to some of the commercial fishermen.
Islanders and visitors can make their opinions heard by emailing the legislators, whose addresses and e-mails are listed at www.ncleg.net.
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