February 25, 2014
Residents and officials speak against ferry
tolls at Ocracoke and Hatteras
By CONNIE LEINBACH
and mainland Hyde residents who attended a hearing last night on the
N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to toll the Hatteras-Ocracoke
ferry were overwhelmingly against putting a toll on their only free
access to their homes.
“A toll on the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry
would devastate our local economy,” said Chip Stevens, owner of
Blackbeard’s Lodge, who made a PowerPoint presentation on the unique
qualities of Ocracoke. “How is the ferry system different from
any highway system? How fair is it to make Ocracoke the only town in
North Carolina that has to pay to go home?”
Stevens was among
several islanders and officials who spoke to the crowd of more than 150
in the Ocracoke School gym following the NCDOT’s formal presentation of
how they would toll the Hatteras ferry and raise tolls on the Cedar
Island and Swan Quarter ferries in order to comply with a state law
enacted last June.
Last Wednesday night,
Feb. 19, a smaller crowd attended the hearing at the Graveyard of the
Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village. All of the dozen or so speakers
opposed the ferry tolls.
The hearings are about the General
Assembly’s insistence on raising $5 million per year from the seven
ferries in the eastern part of the state in order to pay for
replacement boats in the 22-boat fleet.
to the legislation, the decision to enact tolls to raise more revenue
is now in the hands of local folks who are part of the Rural
Transportation Organization (RPO) of the Albemarle Commission.
This RPO includes 10 counties in eastern North Carolina.
complicated funding procedure devised last year by Gov. Pat McCrory and
called the Strategic Transportation Investments Plan divided the state
into 10 regions all of which were given $32 million with which to fund
bridges, trains, airports, roads, bike and pedestrian projects, and
ferry replacement. Prior to this initiative, ferry replacements were
done by an appropriation from the legislature.
If the local RPO
takes no action on the DOT’s request for tolls, it will go back to the
legislature, said RPO chairman Lloyd Griffin in an interview today.
last night, island and mainland residents made passionate appeals
against this third attempt in as many years to toll the Hatteras ferry.
is insanity,” said Tom Pahl. “The legislators who are responsible for
this are not here at this hearing. They created this law and they can
undo it. There are other options.”
Hyde County manager Bill Rich
noted that one of those options is the gasoline tax, which should pay
for the ferries as it does for highways, of which the Ocracoke ferries
are a part.
“The DOT has a $4.3 billion budget which means they
spend $11.8 million a day,” he said. Of the $5 million estimated
revenue from tolling, about $2.8 million of that would come from a
proposed toll on the Hatteras ferry.
“Why should they ask us for $2.8 million when they’re spending $11 million a day’” Rich continued. “This is unbelievable.”
Ocracoke resident Jim Borland echoed several speakers when he asked the RPO not to bring this up for a vote.
“This is a bad law and a bad idea that will hurt our economy,” Borland said. He proposed another option to islanders.
“If (the RPO doesn’t) vote in our best interest we could band together and file a class action lawsuit against this,” he said.
Sears Russ of mainland Hyde said that Hyde County has one of the
highest poverty levels in the United States and that North Carolina has
one of the highest gasoline taxes as well. “They decided to
divide the state (into these transportation divisions) and pit one
group against another.”
“It is a shame that this group of legislators thinks it’s better to punish Eastern North Carolina,” she said.
Pugh, Jr., vice-chairman of the Hyde County commissioners, noted the
recent assault on this area’s economy in recent years from hurricanes
destroying roads and shoaling the Hatteras Inlet, the NPS instituting
beach-driving fees, and looming increases in homeowners’ insurance.
“And now tolls on the lifeline of Ocracoke,” he said. “New bridges aren’t tolled.”
Islander Arleen Burley pointed out the finances on a DOT 2013-2014 “Sources and Uses” chart she found online.
million dollars was taken from the DOT revenue and is being returned to
the general fund and the treasury,” she said. “If these funds were
returned to the DOT, we wouldn’t need any tolls on any ferries.”
Hutcherson, owner of the Ocracoke Variety Store, said a toll on the
Hatteras ferry would cause all of his vendors to raise their prices,
which would force him to raise prices on his groceries.
“Let’s keep Ocracoke a destination not an aggravation,” he said.
M. “Butch” Petrey, a Currituck County commissioner, who is on the RPO
and who attended the meeting said Currituck is on Ocracoke’s side, as
are Camden and Dare counties.
“I will vote ‘hell no’ on ferry tolls,” he said. “This is not a DOT issue. This is a Raleigh issue.”
Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk, who represents Hyde and Dare counties,
asked that the RPO take no action on the DOT’s request and send it back
“There’s no doubt we (legislators) created this
problem, and we’d like to work on it in the short session that begins
in May,” he said. “I can’t guarantee anything, but there are some in
the legislature that would like all ferries to be free.”
he said it’s important for people to make their voices heard by
contacting the legislators in Raleigh. “We need people to weigh in,” he
said. “Their voice really does matter.”
S. Henri McClees,
one of the lobbyist team hired by several coastal counties, said that
on Friday, the Down East RPO was the first one to take no action on the
DOT’s request for tolls.
“These tolling numbers cannot work,” she said as she ripped in two the DOT hand-out.
the meeting, Richard Walls, deputy secretary for transit, who devised
the tolling methodology and attended the meeting, said the meeting was
comparable to the ones on Knotts Island and Pamlico in attendance and
intensity. He also said the DOT is working on a
request-for-proposals for advertising on the ferry system that should
be out soon.
At the Hatteras hearing, residents of Hatteras and
Ocracoke, along with officials from several counties spoke against the
tolling plan. They included three Dare County commissioners –
Warren Judge, Allen Burrus, and Wally Overman -- a Currituck County
County commissioner and a Hyde County commissioner.
machines are the only fair way to do it,” was the comment of Hyde
commissioner John Fletcher, who represents Ocracoke. Earlier this
month at a commission meeting, he proposed adding slot machines on the
sound ferries to raise revenue.
After the Ocracoke meeting, although he did not speak, islander Bill Jones commented on the spirit of the island residents.
“I’m so happy with the people on this island,” he said. “I’m so glad to live here.”
look at the DOT’s methodology, click on this PDF link of the Board of
Transportation December meeting minutes. The methodology is Exhibit A
at the end. http://www.ncdot.gov/board/bot/current/201312_Minutes.pdf
Angela Welsh, a staffer with the Albemarle Commission, though she did not speak Monday night, provided the commission’s website http://www.albemarlecommission.org/planning for people to get more information about this complicated process. It includes a page on ferries.
(Irene Nolan also contributed to this story.)