July 9, 2014
Hyde commissioners say voluntary
evacuation maybe wasn't the best action
By CONNIE LEINBACH
Hyde County Commissioners Monday night noted that their decision to
order a voluntary evacuation for Hurricane Arthur on July 4 might not
have been the best action.
“We need to look into the protocol,”
noted Barry Swindell, board chairman, toward the end of the two-hour
meeting. “We need to include the Ocracoke Control Group. Some things
didn’t exactly go the way we thought.”
Prior to Arthur’s
arrival, the commissioners met on July 2 in an unadvertised meeting,
declared a state-of-emergency with no restrictions, and issued a
voluntary evacuation of the island around noon. According to the
minutes of that meeting posted on Hyde County’s website, a telephone
conference call was held among the commissioners, the county manager,
the county clerk, the emergency services manager and the public
While a number of visitors took the
opportunity to leave, many stayed and experienced a major storm with
total loss of power from 12:30 Friday morning until Saturday night,
July 5, when, after a marathon of replacing or fixing more than 40
damaged electric poles, the power came back on.
Deputy Control Group didn't meet for the first time until Thursday
morning, July 3, when Arthur was due to arrive that night and began
scrambling to prepare in case the island lost power, was flooded, or
had compromised ferry service.
The Control Group consists of about a dozen local business owners and emergency services people.
were some decisions made, and there were some good decisions, but as
time went on turned out not to be so good,” noted Commissioner Earl
Pugh Jr. “We need to get more people involved earlier. It was the
board’s decision (to do a voluntary evacuation). We can learn and make
County Manager Bill Rich said he and Justin
Gibbs, the Emergency Services director, will review the procedure and
the voluntary evacuation concept in general and then will go back to
the Ocracoke Control Group.
“Mandatory evacuation or nothing
seems the best to me,” Rich said. “The people over there (on
Ocracoke) worked well with Tideland, the DOT and the ferry division.”
Styron Doshier, a former county commissioner, noted in the public
comment period that the control group has been in place for several
While she was commissioner (in 2011 and 2012),
she said in an interview after the meeting, Ocracoke further refined a
plan already in place to deal with hurricanes.
“We had been
using it and the plan was recognized for excellence at a state
emergency management conference in Charlotte a few years ago,” Stryon
During the public comment period, Bob Oaks, owner of
Ocracoke Island Realty, echoed the sentiments of many on the island
that when major storms are headed this way, mandatory evacuation is
“If you’re going to evacuate people, make it mandatory,”
Oaks said. “Ocracoke in a hurricane is not for visitors. Storms
Visitors don’t know the effects of tropical
storms and their aftermaths, he said, and mandatory evacuation allows
travelers and businesses to get their money back from insurance
In the commissioners’ defense, Nathan Spencer, owner
of Coastal Gas and a member of the Control Group, said in an interview
that the commissioners had made the decision when Arthur was still a
tropical storm and farther off the coast and supposed to skirt us.
“On Thursday, it was too late to do a mandatory evacuation,” he said.
on Wednesday, Dare County ordered a mandatory evacuation. Many on
Ocracoke remarked that this was the first time they could recall that
Ocracoke’s evacuation order differed from Dare’s.
the commissioner representing Ocracoke, noted in Monday night’s meeting
that on Saturday, after the state emergency response team arrived on
the island, the press was banned from the Control Group meetings and
information was issued afterward via press releases.
Tripp, the Area 2 coordinator of the North Carolina Emergency Task
Force, had said Friday that none of these control groups across the
state allow the press in their meetings and that state protocol is that
all information from these meetings needs to go through a public
information officer so that the public receives the same message.
was of the opinion that the meeting should be open,” Fletcher
said. The commissioners asked the county attorney to look into it.
other action, the board approved 3 to 2 Fletcher’s recommendation to
replace long-serving members Wayne Clark and Martha Garrish on the
Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board. Fletcher presented a plan for members of
that board to serve three-year terms. The new appointees are
Marlene Gaskill Matthews and David Styron, who is a former county
commissioner. Continuing on the board will be Trudy Austin, Frank Brown
and Clayton Gaskill.
“The ones being removed were not asked to
re-up,” Fletcher explained. “We asked the Tax Board to reconsider
the health center’s request and they said they weren’t going to
consider the health center request.”
In the first public comment
period, Garrish said that her removal from the board had to do with the
Ocracoke Health Center's not having received its operating funding
request of $89,000 from the Tax Board.
In May, the Tax Board
declined the health center’s funding request and voted to give more
money to the Hyde County EMS to provide more in the way of
around-the-clock emergency care.
“This year they (the Health
Center) changed their course and said they are out of the after-hours
emergency care business and that’s what we had given them money for in
the past,” Garrish said. “It wasn’t just me and Wayne. We voted to give
the money to after-hours, 24/7 care.”
In the later public
comment period, Garrish noted that the person “taking her place
(Matthews) as well as her husband,” are past members of the Ocracoke
Health Center board of directors. (Editor's
note: While Garrish said in the meeting that Marlene Garrish Matthews
was a past health center board member, the Island Free Press has
learned that she was not. See comment by Randal Matthews below.)
For a number of years, the
Tax Board granted the health center money to pay for after-hours care,
though life-threatening emergencies always go to EMS. Cheryl Ballance,
CEO of the health center, had explained at some public meetings on the
island that while the health center may have provided after-hours care
for minor complaints, they were never the end-point for true
emergencies. They cannot afford to have health providers on call for
after-hours service without a Tax Board grant.
attended the Monday night meeting, countered that since the health
center is now a federally-qualified health center, it cannot provide
“There’s a difference between urgent and
emergencies,” she said. “It’s not in our federal plan to provide