March 17, 2014
Ocracoke wins another round in ferry toll fight
By CONNIE LEINBACH
Ocracoke Island has won round three in the ferry toll fight.
Regional Planning Organization (RPO) of Division 1, which is overseen
by the Albemarle Commission and which includes Hyde and Dare counties,
did not vote on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s
request to enact tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry.
Rich, Hyde County manager, who is a member of the RPO, said that at the
meeting on March 10 in Plymouth, the RPO sent the ferry toll request
back to the state General Assembly.
At several hearings held by
the DOT this winter, state Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk told members of
the RPO, “Do not vote on this request. 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.
RPO’s action followed on the heels of the Down East RPO, which on Feb.
14 declined to vote on enacting ferry tolls.
The hearings were
about the legislature’s determination to raise $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. According 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 RPO, which includes 10
counties in eastern North Carolina.
A complicated funding
procedure devised last year by Gov. Pat McCrory and called the
Strategic Transportation Initiative divided the state into 10 regions
all of whom 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. In December, the DOT’s Board
of Transportation authorized the DOT staff to devise a ferry tolling
methodology to raise this $5 million.
Malcolm Fearing, a Manteo
resident who is a member of the DOT Board of Transportation that
requested that tolls be enacted, said he considers the ferries as mass
transit and will seek federal help in funding them as such.
So, Ocracoke and Hatteras islands are now in a waiting game until the legislature reconvenes.