April 9, 2014

Park Service issues occupy Hyde
commissioners at recent meeting


The Hyde County commissioners on Monday night passed a resolution asking the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to implement day passes for driving on the beach, open an area on the north and south end of Ocracoke Island for 24-hour vehicle access, and remit 20 percent of the beach pass revenue back to the county to offset emergency services.

Commissioner John Fletcher presented the resolution, and it will be sent to state and federal representatives and senators and to the Atlanta and Washington NPS offices.

Among the points made in the resolution is that Hyde is the only North Carolina county with beachfront property that is wholly owned by the federal government.  Eighty percent of the soundfront property is owned by the NPS. Therefore, Hyde does not receive the tax revenues other beachfront counties in the state enjoy, making Hyde one of the poorest counties in the state.

“Sixty percent of our tax revenue comes from Ocracoke giving the county a vital interest in how the NPS manages its portion of the island,” the resolution says.  “The NPS over the past several years has implemented rules and regulations which negatively impact the tourist business on the island and tourist-friendly access to the beaches of vehicles and persons.”

 Fletcher noted that anything the federal government does would be devastating to the Ocracoke economy.

“The NPS rules fall heavy on Ocracoke Island because there is no privately owned oceanfront as on other Outer Banks islands,” the resolution says.

His resolution also asked for free beach access for handicapped persons who cannot get to the ocean waters without buying a beach pass.

Because the NPS does not provide emergency medical rescue or fire protection on the beaches, the resolution asks for the NPS to remit 20 percent of its ORV revenues to help defray the county’s costs for providing emergency and fire protection services to the beaches.

It asks for the NPS to create a daily rate for beach driving and to designate an area on the beach where handicapped people can go in a vehicle without purchasing a pass.  The resolution also asks for the NPS to open soundside beaches as a safe place for young children to go swimming.

“The NPS can starve this county to death,” Fletcher said in an interview Wednesday. “We have to keep the pressure on them.”

Several islanders spoke at the commissioners meeting Monday against the National Park Service’s decision to eliminate lifeguards in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

This was in response to Superintendent Barclay Trimble’s suggestion that while he is seeking bids for an outside contractor to provide lifeguards on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, a price for seven days of coverage has not been determined and the possibility exists that the Park Service would pay for only five days of lifeguards with local communities having to contract for the other two days.

Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, told the commissioners that the park’s own usage surveys show that 78 percent of the visitors say swimming is their top activity choice with only six percent saying interpretive programs are their top choice.

“The park decisions consistently make decisions contrary to what their customers want,” Chestnut said. “For over 16 years I’ve watched the NPS make decisions for wildlife that have affected my business and personal use of the park. I am adamantly opposed to the NPS asking us to fund something they should be doing.”

Several of the 24 islanders who attended in the Ocracoke School Commons Room echoed his concerns.
“They said they had no money for lifeguards, and now they say they have money for five days of lifeguards,” said Lida Jones. “The riptides don’t stop on the two days there wouldn’t be lifeguards.”

Sundae Horn pointed out that in a phone conference the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association had March 12 with Trimble, he noted that his justification for eliminating lifeguards is that the actual water is not the Park Service’s jurisdiction but the state’s.

Darlene Styron noted that the towns on Hatteras Island have beach rescue squads, but Ocracoke does not.

“I don’t understand how something so important as lifeguards was (eliminated) by one person without any (community) input whatsoever,” she said.

County Manager Bill Rich explained that the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board was willing to set aside $10,000 to help fund lifeguards.

“Don’t give them a penny,” Fletcher said. “Don’t go down that road.”

No proposal was made and no action was taken on this.

Among those attending the meeting on the Swan Quarter side were Catherine Jordan, director of outreach for U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, Betty Jo Shepheard, congressional staffer for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, and Lee Slade, constituent services representative for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

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