May 4, 2015
and how to pay for it dominated the Dare County Board of Commissioners
meeting on Monday, with members tabling one issue while unexpectedly
County board tables inlet issue on
agenda and takes up one that isn't
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Within minutes of starting, the board agreed
to remove a controversial agenda item on consolidation of Oregon Inlet
and Waterways Commission and the Oregon Inlet Task Force.
shortly before ending, it took action on another controversial dredging
issue that was not on the agenda. The board split 4-3 on a motion
seeking authorization to tap county funds collected from a now-defunct
1-cent sales tax dedicated to beach nourishment to use for
Board chairman Bob Woodard along with
Commissioners Warren Judge, Allen Burrus, and Jack Shea voted in favor
of the motion, while Commissioners Beverly Boswell, Margarette Umphlett
and Wally Overman opposed it.
Increased shoaling in the county’s
waterways, coupled with drastic decreases in federal funding for inlet
maintenance, has led to the county struggling to find a way to pay for
dredging. The state and the Army Corps of Engineers are currently
working on an agreement that would partner with the county to provide a
dredge for up to 340 days of 12-hour shifts a year, with estimated
costs of $7.3 million divided between the state and county.
the proposed merging of the inlet panels has stoked worry on Hatteras
Island that sand-clogged channels in Hatteras Inlet will be
overshadowed by shoaling problems in Oregon Inlet.
agenda change, a number of islanders spoke out during the public
comment period about the importance of having Hatteras represented
equally on whatever combination of the Oregon Inlet panels emerges, and
to distribute maintenance funds fairly.
renaming the group,” urged Jeffrey Aiken, owner of Jeffrey’s Seafood in
Hatteras, “and develop a mission statement that is inclusive of both
inlets, as well as all the waterways in Dare County.”
she was speaking on behalf of the island’s marine industry, Sheryl
Branstetter with Scott Boatyard in Buxton told the board that the fewer
groundings lately in Hatteras are mainly because fewer boaters are
“We all need to stick together,” she said. “Hatteras Inlet is a vital part of the Dare County economy, too.”
a morning break in the meeting, Woodard announced that Commissioners
Boswell, Burrus and Judge would study the committee merger issue and
report back to the board within 30 days.
Some of the
islanders’ concern was prompted by a recently circulated e-mail from a
meeting of some members of both panels and three county commissioners
that said that the focus of the new Task Force should remain on Oregon
Inlet. It also stated that changing the name from Oregon Inlet would
confuse contacts in Raleigh, Wilmington, and Washington, D.C.
today's meeting, Jim Tobin, manager of Pirate’s Cove Marina and the
chairman of the Task Force, commented that Oregon Inlet had been nearly
completely closed, with two boats even striking the bridge, while
Hatteras Inlet was still passable.
“We have worked for a long
time trying to keep Oregon Inlet open,” he told the board, “and we’re
willing to work to find funding to keep Hatteras Inlet open. But we
need to stay focused.”
During Tobin’s remarks, Commissioner
Allen Burrus angrily interrupted him, saying that boats have also
struck bottom in Hatteras Inlet, and that the shoaled ferry channel had
to be moved to a longer natural channel.
Burrus, who was
asked by Chairman Bob Woodard to hold his comments, later defended his
remarks, referring to “somebody who acts like a butthole” by
insinuating he is not “telling you the truth.” He also said the days of
the ‘60s and ‘70s are over, “when every thought was Oregon Inlet.”
it was during county Manager Bobby Outten’s comments at the end of the
meeting when the complications involved in the county’s options were
put on the table, making it obvious that no option presented easy
answers for either inlet.
The proposed ¼-cent sales tax that
would have funded most of the county’s share of annual dredging costs
sailed through the state House of Representatives in just three days in
late March. However, Outten said, it now appears unlikely to pass
in the state Senate.
That leaves the county needing to find funds elsewhere, he said, and “there’s no good choices.”
state legislation that would have used a portion of the 2 percent
occupancy tax that funds the county beach nourishment account was
opposed by the beach towns, which said the funds were already committed
to their pending projects.
Eventually, the county proposed to use only its portion of the nourishment tax to fund dredging.
rejecting a 6 percent cut in personnel and services and nixing a 3-cent
tax increase, Outten said that it was finally determined through a
complex funding model that money for dredging could be found in the
beach nourishment fund dedicated to maintenance. The idea would be to
limit the time-frame to five years and the withdrawals to $3 million a
year, but the funds could be used for either inlet.
towns planning beach nourishment projects would not be due for
maintenance for five years, he explained, the plan would allow the
county to restore the funds before the maintenance costs are
needed. Town mayors were "lukewarm" but agreeable to the concept,
Outten said that the option would require the county
to get permission from the state legislature and the local government
But Burrus said he was concerned that by asking
the legislature to look at the occupancy tax, it could present an
opening for the tax to be changed or removed.
“I’m just wondering what they might do,” he said. “We’ve got a target on us.”
proposing a substitute motion to Commissioner Boswell’s motion to
pursue Outten’s option, Commissioner Warren Judge suggested that the
$5.5 million provided by a 1 cent sales tax for beach nourishment could
be used to cover the first two years and buy time for the county. The
tax was collected for six months beginning in January 2006 before it
was soundly voted down in a countywide referendum.
said that since the money has already been collected, and the
authorizing legislation only has to add dredging to its permissible
use, there should be no reason for legislators to oppose it.
not a new tax,” he said. “All it’s doing is it gives us the authority
to take the money that’s already there. To me it seems fair and
After further discussion, the measure was passed, with
Boswell holding firm in her position of using a portion the 2 percent
occupancy tax funds according to Outten's model.
“This is a huge gamble on our part to do either-or," Woodard said. "I like both proposals, to be honest with you. “