a week of seemingly endless procedural delays and debate, the U.S.
Senate this evening passed the $585 billion National Defense
Authorization Act by a vote of 89 to 11.
passes defense bill that
includes changes to seashore's ORV plan
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 House of Representatives easily passed the bill last week on
Thursday, Dec. 4.
The defense authorization bill, H.R. 3979, now goes to the desk of
President Barack Obama, who is expected to quickly sign it.
Cape Hatteras legislation instructs the Secretary of Interior to review
and adjust wildlife protection buffers, keep them in place the shortest
possible duration, designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around
resource closures, and confer with the state of North Carolina on
certain buffers and protections.
It also makes other
modifications to the final ORV plan, such as conducting a public
process to consider such changes 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
The Secretary of the Interior must report to the Congress within a year
on the measures taken to implement the legislation.
legislation that has been passed 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.
introduced earlier into this Congress and the one before it
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
The House passed the bill to overturn the ORV plan twice as part of a
larger public lands package, most recently last February.
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.
Most had considered any legislation to change the ORV plan dead until
the new Congress convenes in January.
in a surprise move, a House and Senate conference committee collected a
number of public lands bills into a package of more than 90 pieces of
legislation and added the package to the "must-pass" National Defense
Authorization Act at the very last hour -- very late on the night of
Tuesday, Dec. 2.
Some lawmakers objected to adding the package
to the defense bill, most notably Sen. James Coburn, R-Okla., who
forced a procedural delay.
However, lawmakers on the natural
resources committees of both chambers successfully argued that no
comprehensive legislation on public lands had been passed in six years
and that the package was badly needed and long overdue.
final package was indeed bipartisan, with something for both
Republicans and Democrats to dislike. And it was the result
long process of compromise and horse-trading.
The ORV bill is
a prime example. Many Democrats on the Senate Natural
Committee opposed overturning the ORV plan but members were able to
work out a compromise that both sides could live with.
of groups that support more reasonable public access, including the
Outer Banks Preservation Association and the North Carolina Beach Buggy
Association, were celebrating this evening.
"The passage of the
Cape Hatteras bill today represents a major milestone in our fight to
properly balance visitor recreational and resource protection goals
within the seashore," David Scarborough, OBPA treasurer, said in a
statement. "It has been a rocky road to navigate, and we thank our
membership for their encouragement and support over the
know they are happy with the progress this legislation represents.
"We cannot overstate our gratitude to Congressman Jones,
Senator Burr, Senator Hagan, and Senator Dole before Senator Hagan for
their years of undying commitment to our cause.
satisfaction, relief and sense of accomplishment we feel today is
tempered by the realization that much work is still ahead to execute
the new law and to accomplish its objective," Scarborough added. "As
I’ve said before, we look forward to working with the new
superintendent to make Cape Hatteras the best seashore recreational
area in the nation."
A statement from Burr's office noted that
he has "long been an advocate of opening up North Carolina’s beaches to
the public, while maintaining the wildlife and scenic beauty and began
work on this legislation in 2008."
“Tonight’s Senate vote is a
triumph for the Outer Banks region,” Burr said. “The
regulations outside interest groups and the federal government have
imposed are finally being lifted. This is a win for North
Carolinians and tourists from around the country who wish to visit
North Carolina’s scenic treasures. I trust that the Park
will use these new guidelines responsibly and I look forward to
working with them to ensure that we are protecting beaches while also
Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials declined to comment until the
bill is signed by the President.
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:
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
(4) STATE.—The term ‘‘State’’ means the State of North Carolina.
(b) REVIEW AND ADJUSTMENT OF WILDLIFE PROTECTION BUFFERS.—
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
(2) BUFFER MODIFICATIONS.—In modifying wildlife
buffers under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall, using adaptive
(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
(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.
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:
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.
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.
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
REPORT.—The Secretary shall report to Congress within 1 year after the
date of enactment of this Act on measures taken to implement this
Click here to read the entire
1,648 pages of the National Defense Authorization Act.