by Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County, the N.C. House Select
Committee on the Wise Use of Off-Road Vehicles on the Cape Lookout
National Seashore conducted a hearing Tuesday at the College of the
Albemarle's auditorium on that seashore's proposed Off-Road Vehicle
Carteret County residents get an earful
from Dare at Cape Lookout hearing
By KIP TABB
McElraft brought the hearing to Dare County to give
voice to the experiences of Dare County residents when they went
through the same process at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
2007, the National Park Service began developing an ORV plan for CHNS
that many Dare County residents and elected officials felt was
arbitrary and based on incomplete and deceptive use of interviews and
statistics. The plan became final in 2012.
As Cape Lookout
National Seashore, immediately south of Cape Hatteras, continues its
planning process, Carteret County residents are expressing anger and
dismay with what is being proposed.
“I’ve been in government all
my life,” Carol Lohr, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism
Authority, said. “I’ve never seen such undocumented studies reviewed as
they’re (Cape Lookout National Seashore) using.”
with Brent Lane from the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager
School of Business and Tom Allen of Southwick Associates, spoke at the
meeting, which focused on the economic impacts of the new rules on
travel and tourism.
The speakers outlined findings—findings that
stood in stark contrast to a picture of economic recovery on Hatteras
Island and Cape Lookout painted by proponents of the ORV rules.
Lane, in particular, cited a number of flaws in the use of occupancy tax receipts as a measure of economic health.
general, we’re under-performing,” he said in his discussion of the
economic health of the Crystal Coast. “I can tell you we are not
realizing the full potential of our natural and cultural assets.”
a chart he presented, Lane noted an area of concern. “This is overnight
business, and you can see it’s really tailed off.”
discussion included information about the length of stay for
visitors—information that showed why there was concern. “There is
prospering going on, but it’s not going on for you communities that are
dependent on Cape Lookout."
Lane’s remarks were supported by Hatteras Island speakers who addressed the hearing.
want to be clear that while we are aware that there are organizations
that like to tout that occupancy taxes appeared to look higher in our
area after the ORV ruling, they are looking at those numbers in a
vacuum,” Beth Midgett of Midgett Realty on Hatteras Island said.
noted that both the types of houses being rented and an increase in
rental rates are accounting for the increase in occupancy tax. The
actual number of renters, however, has gone down, “which is why our
auxiliary businesses are reporting decreased revenue,” she said.
is not only the rental industry that is affected by the ORV rules.
Speaking without notes, Frank Folb of Frank and Fran’s in Avon
described the effects of the beach closures.
“I’ve been in the
fish and tackle business since 1988,” he said. “In the last two years,
business has become (such that) in the winter time—something I thought
I would never see —a line of credit must be established before we can
pay an employee or myself. That never happened before the final decree
that has been put into place.”
The winter struggle with credit was not Folb’s only concern.
shoulder season is effectively gone because of the early closures. In
the fall, which is October and November, and which used to be our
finest months of the year (are no longer),” he went on to say. “It’s
now the summer where we see all our business.”
As Cape Lookout
moves toward an ORV plan, speaker after speaker expressed the same
view—that what is happening in Carteret County is too similar to Dare
County’s experience to be dismissed.
“It does not take a crystal
ball to look into the future and see what might happen in Cape Lookout.
When all we need to look at is what has already happened here in Dare
County,” County Commissioner Warren Judge said in his remarks.
did note that recently passed federal legislation governing how ORV
rules will be promulgated in CHNS was a huge step forward. “Both houses
of Congress with bipartisan support have passed legislation that would
return control of the seashore to the superintendent, not to the NGOs
(non-government organizations), which is exactly what our residents and
visitors have been begging them to do,” Judge said.
seem commonsense: “Resource protection must be science based,” Judge
said in explaining what is in the legislation. “It must be based on
peer review. Access must be fair and equitable.”
Congress did pass legislation targeting ORV rules at CHNS, the
legislation is specific to Cape Hatteras. There is no indication how it
will impact the rules being created at Cape Lookout.
concern of Carteret residents is that the first Draft Environmental
Impact Statement on ORV rulemaking for Cape Lookout has been issued,
and it is very similar to the document created by CHNS to regulate ORV
access. Elected officials in the southern county say that they are
feeling the same isolation from the process and lack of accountability
on the part of NPS officials that occurred in Dare County.
being pounded from every side and it’s got to stop,”McElraft said at
one point. “There’s no reason for it. We can live in harmony with the
The experience that Dare County—and especially
Hatteras Island—has gone through is the reason McElraft brought the
hearings to Manteo. “That’s why we wanted to come here and make sure
that we heard the real story,” she said.