March 17, 2014

Ocracoke protests Park Service
elimination of lifeguarded beaches

By CONNIE LEINBACH

Ocracoke has taken on the National Park Service over its decision to eliminate lifeguards on the beaches in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Seashore Superintendent Barclay Trimble, who made this decision in November, said that de-funding the lifeguard program at these three beaches is necessary because of budget constraints.

“Given our current budget realities and the uncertainty for the future, the National Park Service is exercising extreme caution in spending to ensure that available funding is directed towards the highest priorities,” Trimble said in a news release last year.

According to an article at the time in The Island Free Press, lifeguard operations on all three lifeguarded beaches – Coquina, Buxton, and Ocracoke – in the seashore will be discontinued.  The program cost for lifeguards at these beaches is $200,000.

The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association on March 12 had a conference call with Trimble during its monthly meeting to discuss this situation.  Some of the speakers at the meeting reminded Trimble about the NPS’s own policy manual that states “the protection of human life is the highest priority.”

Some asked if the $2 million collected in beach driving permits in 2013 could be used for lifeguards. However, Trimble said the beach driving permit monies are designated only for improving beach access.

“Beach access is beach safety, which should mean lifeguards,” noted Rudy Austin, OCBA president, who noted that the NPS began the lifeguard service in the 1950s.

To several Ocracoke residents’ comments, Trimble continued to say that his budgetary constraints and the need to “balance services” do not allow for the hiring of lifeguards.

After the meeting, Hyde County manager Bill Rich said that he and Joe McClees, one of the two-member lobby team hired by Hyde County to advocate on several fronts for coastal North Carolina, have a meeting scheduled March 26 at the White House in Washington, D.C., with a high-level NPS official about this subject.

The OCBA has begun a petition to restore lifeguards at www.change.org. To view the petition and sign it, follow this link: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-our-lifeguards-put-lifeguards-back-on-our-beaches#

The Hyde County commissioners at their monthly meeting March 10 decided to send a resolution to Trimble advocating for the reinstatement of lifeguards on Ocracoke.

Commenting on the need for the resolution, Commissioner Dick Tunnell said: “Ocracoke has been hit with paying all these fees. We ought to go to bat for them.”


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