December 4, 2014

UPDATE: House passes defense bill that
includes changes to seashore ORV Plan

By IRENE NOLAN

The U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon passed the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of  300 to 119 in a "yay" or "nay" vote that lasted just five minutes.

Attached to the bill and also passed is a public lands package of bills, one of which includes some significant changes to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore's Off-Road Vehicle Plan.

The Cape Hatteras legislation instructs the Secretary of Interior to review and adjust wildlife protection buffers and to confer with the state of North Carolina on certain buffers. It also makes other modifications to the final ORV plan, such as the earlier opening of beaches that are closed at night during the summer, extending seasonal ORV routes in the fall and spring, and modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas.

The legislation doesn't go as far as advocates for more reasonable public access to the seashore would like nor is it what North Carolina's Congressional delegation originally proposed.

Bills introduced earlier into  this Congress and the one before it with the bipartisan support of Republican U.S. Rep Walter Jones and the state's two senators, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan, would have overturned the final rule and ordered the Park Service to return to its publically vetted 2007 Interim Protected Species Management Plan.

The House passed the bill twice as part of a larger public lands package, most recently last February.

The Senate bill was amended and then favorably reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June 2013, also along with other public lands bills. But the legislation never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

The wording of the bill that passed today is almost identical to the Senate version. While it doesn't overturn the plan, staff members for Burr and Jones have said that the only way the Cape Hatteras legislation was going to make it into the lands package bill was by negotiating the language with committee members in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats until January.

And some of them said that the bill requires more significant change than some access advocates might think.  It will hold the Park Service more accountable to the public on the issues of access and ORV use.

Much negotiation went on behind the scenes by Burr and Jones and their staffs to get the public lands package -- and the Cape Hatteras part of it -- included in the amendment to the defense bill.

The bill was not finally filed until the last minute on Tuesday night.

Today, David Scarborough, treasurer of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, said on behalf of the access advocacy group, "CHAPA is grateful to Sen. Burr and Congressman Jones and the members of their hard working staffs for their work to pass the Hatteras legislation in the current Congress.  Their perseverance, as demonstrated by their efforts to include the legislation in the defense bill package, shows their commitment to the citizens of Dare County and visitors to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. 

"The House has passed this legislation numerous times in recent years only for it to get bogged down in the Senate," he said.  Eighteen months ago, through the efforts of Senator Burr, the bill was rewritten to gain bipartisan support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.

"While the bill does not do everything we had originally hoped," Scarborough added, "we are confident it will establish a strong framework to guide the park service and hold it accountable in the development and administration of the Cape Hatteras ORV management plan in a manner that properly balances public access with resource protection....We are excited that the bill has passed in the House today, and are hopeful that similar success will come shortly in the Senate.  We look forward to building a strong working relationship with the new Park Service Superintendent to successfully accomplish the changes required by the new legislation."

Burr applauded the House passage of the bill in a media release today.

"The Hatteras legislation will help tourists and sportsmen gain access to North Carolina’s renowned Outer Banks beaches," he said. "The legislation will set rules and parameters for the National Park Service (NPS) to abide by when they consider limiting citizen access to beaches, including off-road vehicle (ORV) access.

“Interference from outside interest groups and federal restrictions on beach access have crippled local businesses along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore for years – it has impaired the local community and its economy,”  Burr said.  “This House vote is a win for North Carolinians and tourists from around the country who wish to visit North Carolina’s scenic treasures."

He called it "a long journey that required compromise on both sides of the aisle in order to see it through" and said he feels "confident that my Senate colleagues will swiftly pass this legislation.”

Ironically, despite Jones' work on getting the legislation passed, he voted "no" today on the bill, based on his strong feelings on issues that affect U.S. troops and on his opposition in general to the "unconstitutional" war in Iraq.

“I cannot vote for a bill that cuts military benefits while funding wars that Congress never declared,” said Congressman Jones.  "Congress repeatedly authorizes spending on undeclared wars that put our troops in danger and then has the audacity to cut the benefits of those they are unconstitutionally sending overseas to fight.  It’s just not right.” 

Congressman Jones also opposed a provision in the bill which "directs the U.S. government to give away 2,300 acres in Arizona to a foreign-controlled corporation (Resolution Copper) without going through a competitive bidding process and without the approval of local native American Indian tribes who consider the land home."

The Senate is expected to take up the defense bill next week, probably later in the week.

It is also expected to pass easily in that chamber, despite the objections of some Republican senators to the inclusion of the public lands package in a military policy and spending bill.

Here is the exact language for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that is part of the public lands package:

SEC. 3057. CAPE HATTERAS NATIONAL SEASHORE RECREATIONAL AREA.

(a) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
(1) FINAL RULE.—The term ‘‘Final Rule’’means the final rule entitled ‘‘Special Regulations, Areas of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore—Off-Road Vehicle Management’’(77 Fed. Reg. 3123 (January 23, 2012)).
(2) NATIONAL SEASHORE.—The term ‘‘National Seashore’’ means the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.
(3) SECRETARY.—The term ‘‘Secretary’’ means the Secretary of the Interior.
(4) STATE.—The term ‘‘State’’ means the State of North Carolina.

(b) REVIEW AND ADJUSTMENT OF WILDLIFE PROTECTION BUFFERS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall review and modify wildlife buffers in the National Seashore in accordance with this subsection and any other applicable law.
(2) BUFFER MODIFICATIONS.—In modifying wildlife buffers under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall, using adaptive management practices—
(A) ensure that the buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect a species, as determined in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data; and
(B) designate pedestrian and vehicle corridors around areas of the National Seashore closed because of wildlife buffers, to allow access to areas that are open.
(3) COORDINATION WITH STATE.—The Secretary, after coordinating with the State, shall determine appropriate buffer protections for species that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), but that are identified for protection under State law.

(c) MODIFICATIONS TO FINAL RULE.—The Secretary shall undertake a public process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the National Seashore, the following changes to the Final Rule:
(1) Opening beaches at the National Seashore that are closed to night driving restrictions, by opening beach segments each morning on a rolling basis as daily management reviews are completed.
(2) Extending seasonal off-road vehicle routes for additional periods in the Fall and Spring if offroad vehicle use would not create resource management problems at the National Seashore.
(3) Modifying the size and location of vehicle free areas.

(d) CONSTRUCTION OF NEW VEHICLE ACCESS POINTS.—The Secretary shall construct new vehicle access points and roads at the National Seashore—
(1) as expeditiously as practicable; and
(2) in accordance with applicable management plans for the National Seashore.

(e) REPORT.—The Secretary shall report to Congress within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act on measures taken to implement this section.

Click here to read the entire 1,648 pages of the National Defense Authorization Act.

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