May 18, 2015
Commentary: Inlet issues engender
distrust and divisiveness
By SANDY SEMANS
the third time in about 10 weeks, the Dare County Board of
Commissioners (BOC) has been notified by N.C. Senator Bill Cook's
office that major funding changes have been made to proposed
legislation, which if signed into law is, in part, to support the
dredging of Oregon Inlet. Such legislation is ordinarily developed at
the behest and with the input of the local elected officials and
discussed in public in some manner before language is inserted in bills.
And, again, the notification has been right before a weekend when it is more difficult to get the word out.
But this has not been an ordinary process and it appears that the only
“for-sure” is that there will be more surprises – or shocks - and no
Most, if not all the board members, have been left out of the process,
and it appears that members of an advisory board appointed by the BOC
is dealing directly with Cook's office without an apparent authority to
Dredging the inlet is supported by the BOC and the public, but the
manner in which the situation has been handled has led to distrust and
divisiveness at every turn.
The latest twist is a proposed tax on all boats at least 24 feet long
owned by holders of coastal recreational fishing licenses, standard
commercial fishing licenses, retired standard commercial fishing
licenses, shellfish licenses, recreational commercial gear
licenses and for-hire licenses. The tax is to fund the
Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Lake Maintenance Fund,
which is to provide matching funds for dredging projects. Local
government must provide the other half of the needed revenues.
The new tax caught both the commissioners and apparently fishing groups by surprise.
Jerry Schill, director of the North Carolina Fisheries Association,
which represents commercial fishing interests, said he found out about
it only on Thursday, May 14 – the day it was amended into the existing
dredging bill. He said he doesn't know yet what his members think about
“After the large increase in commercial license fees that we advocated, I can guess though,” said Schill.
Schill will seek answers when he goes to Raleigh on Tuesday.
An agreement between the state and the National Marine Fisheries
Service allows the flounder fishery to operate only with the presence
of observers to see that there aren't interactions with turtles. The
observer program cost about $1 million per year, and the state has
pulled the funding. To keep the fishery open, commercial fishermen
volunteered to pay substantially higher fees for their fishing licenses
to fund the program. The new fees went into effect last month.
In a response to a query from someone else about where the boat tax
suggestion originated, Cook's legislative aide, Jordan Hennessy,
replied: “This was discussed among Harry [Schiffman] and others on the
Dare County Oregon Inlet Task Force.”
Oregon Inlet Task Force meeting minutes do not reflect such a
conversation. The April minutes were not available in time for this
commentary but two people who attended confirmed that there was no
But that doesn't mean that the Task Force members didn't talk about the
issue because since its inception, at least some in the group have
apparently worked to circumvent the open meetings laws.
The BOC agreed to form the Oregon Inlet Task Force after a contingency
of inlet users approached the board about needing to find a solution to
the constant shoaling of the inlet.
On Jan. 22, 2013, the names of the Task Force members were approved based on names submitted to the board.
They were Jim Tobin, Harry Schiffman, Mikey Daniels and John Bayliss
from the Oregon Inlet Users Group, Dave May from the Oregon Inlet and
Waterways Commission, Carl “Pogey” Worsley, chairman of the Wanchese
Seafood Industrial Park Authority Board, and Commissioner Bob Woodard.
Less than a month later, sparks flew during a Task Force report to the
BOC. Task force chairman, Jim Tobin, reported that the “Users Group”
met and was trying to formulate a plan to move forward. He also
mentioned other meetings of the Task Force that included only three of
the seven committee members because no one else was invited – including
Woodard, who was the board's appointment to the committee.
The late Commissioner Richard Johnson told Tobin that he was concerned
that there were several things happening with the Task Force that
Woodard was unaware of because he wasn't kept in the loop or notified
of meetings. “Keep him informed because he is who I'm going to go to.
Make sure he is informed about stuff.”
Tobin said Woodard was invited to all meetings. “But I am [Tobin's
emphasis] the chairman of the committee, and I think everyone on our
committee should have equal representation,” argued Tobin.
Woodard responded that “There are other meetings going on besides the
Task Force – (we) have to get our arms around not so many meetings.
There were conference calls on Thursday and Friday that I was unaware
of – that's not going to fly with this board or with me...In the
future, I need to know about them...
“(There) can't be additional meetings outside the Task Force without it
being brought to this board. There are two or three meetings here or
there without it coming to the Task Force and this board – everything
needs to come before the Task Force for a vote and to this board.”
Tobin responded that he had been told that as long as only three
members were present, meetings don't have to have public notice.
“You are saying you are keeping it under four. You have to comply with
the law or people aren't going to trust things,” said Johnson.
Tobin still appeared to resist understanding that there is a legal
process that must be complied with. And he seemed irritated when told
that a contract that he said the Task Force wanted to enter into for a
study would have to go through a request for proposals per the law.
Johnson, apparently frustrated by Tobin's arguments, said: “You asked
this board to make you legitimate by making you a Dare County Task
Force. We are asking that you make yourself legitimate by having
legitimate meetings, advertising your meetings, and including
In April 2013, Woodard, on behalf of the Task Force, asked if the board
would agree to reimburse the users group $16,510 for a November
2012 study by Coastal Engineering -- before the Task Force was formed.
The board agreed and the check was made out to Oregon Inlet Users
Association. There was no invoice provided, said Dare County Finance
Director Dave Clawson. The bill was paid based on the board motion.
The finance office checked the IRS status of the association to confirm
the address to which the check was to be mailed. According to IRS
records, that address was the correct address for the group, but the
group had not filed required tax returns for several years and was no
longer a legal non-profit entity.
That's not surprising given that the Oregon Inlet Users Association
disbanded in 1993. One of the original incorporators recently confirmed
And although the address on file with the IRS – P.O. Box 612, Wanchese
– was for many years where the organization's mail was sent, according
to records in the Secretary of State's Office, that post office box is
listed on the 2010 original incorporation filings for Michael J.
Daniels Insurance Services. And the address was listed on a required
annual report filed in 2013.
So who are the members of the group calling themselves by that name?
Apparently, members of the Dare County Oregon Inlet Task Force.
Frequently in minutes of meetings, there are references made to user
group meetings that were held to discuss something or to make plans. It
appears that the name is being used to avoid public meetings of the
Task Force. Adding credibility to this thought is a meeting held
earlier this month.
On May 2, Task Force member Harry Schiffman sent the following e-mail
to those who had attended a meeting the day before in the county
“Recap on Users's Assoc. meeting with Bob Woodard, Wally Overman,
Warren Judge, Jim Tobin, Mikey Daniels, Bob Peele, Jenny Gray Jones,
“After considerable discussion It is my understanding that agreement was reached amongst those in attendance to:
“1. Transfer duties from
the Oregon Inlet Waterways Commission to the Task Force along with two
members of the Commission, namely Jed Dixon to fill John Bayliss's seat
and Ernie Foster to fill Dave May's seat on the Task Force, i.e.
keeping the number of members to the original setting of seven (7). The
focus and highest priority to remain on Oregon Inlet. Task Force to
continue to operate in the same manner as it has.
“2. As to a name change,
there was no agreement reached. Several suggestions were tossed around
but none were welcomed by all. Daniels, Peele, Tobin & Schiffman
appear committed to the belief that a name change would lead to
confusion and concern by contacts in Raleigh, Washington D.C.,
Wilmington NC, and with other contacts developed and nurtured since the
inception of the Task Force. These beliefs are a result of past
experiences over many years as relates to efforts with the O.I. Project.
“3. All agreed we would
continue in the same fashion as that which got us to this point with
O.I., i.e. as a team. None of the to date success would likely have
developed without all members of the team pulling in a similar
direction, yet via various conduits.
“A personal point on the
name change desires of the Commissioners. If hell-bent on making a name
change, the least potentially damaging that I heard was 'Dare County
Advisory Task Force on Oregon Inlet and Waterways.' It was also
mentioned that when a decision came forth to dissolve the O.I.
Waterways Comm., an explanation could be made that the waterways
responsibilities would continue under the Task Force, i.e. Hatteras
Inlet, Stumpy Point, other waterways, etc..
“Note: First run subject to changes, corrections from others. Thanks for your time and the discussion. Harry”
the business discussed at the meeting was county business – not that of
an outside group. And those present were commissioners and a quorum of
the Task Force. And there was a county staff member who is assigned to
the Task Force. If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck...
Task Force minutes from September 2014 include conversation about
possibly using sand from the dredging project to nourish beaches
it includes discussion about “Cook's fundraiser,” which is not an
appropriate subject for any public body. The meeting occurred just a
few days after Tobin and Daniels sponsored a fundraising event for the
senator at Pirate's Cove Marina, owned by Tobin.
Meeting minutes reveal little except mostly the same conversations at each meeting.
March 2015 when proposed legislation popped up that would, if passed
into law, give the county control of all 6 cents of occupancy tax, it
appeared to be a surprise for the commissioners and, most certainly,
board offered an alternate proposal to instead ask for a 1/4-cent sales
tax to be levied without a referendum and dedicated to dredging. Rep.
Paul Tine, U-Dare, introduced the bill in the House and it flew through
the process because legislators understood the need to get the inlet
cleared. But since it arrived in the Senate, the local bill has not
been pushed forward by Cook.
senators who serve with Cook say that they see the importance and
reasonableness of the sale tax request but that because it is a local
bill, Cook must let it be known that he wants to see it move forward.
the dredging bill now includes the new tax on coastal fishing boats to
pay the state's share of the matching funds, Hennessey had this to say
about the sales tax which would have increased tax by 25 cents on each
$100: “The commissioners requested for the General Assembly to give
them the authority to raise taxes without the vote of the public. That
doesn't seem to be transparent at all.”
language now in the bill to provide the county's share will allow
taking $3 million per year for five years out of the occupancy tax for
beach nourishment. At the end of five years, the money reverts back to
the beach nourishment use. The $3 million is not enough to support
dredging Hatteras Inlet, which also badly needs dredging.
sales tax could have provided a long-term stream of revenue to help pay
for both needs. Although it initially could be levied without a
referendum, within five years, voters would decide the issue.
Commissioner Beverly Boswell, who is now on the Task Force, insists that dipping into the occupancy tax is a better plan.
response to press questions on May 10 about whether she requested the
second proposal, which will take $3 million a year from the beach
nourishment occupancy tax, she replied:
I ask Senator Cook (via Jordan I believe) to help find funding for
dredging? Absolutely! Did I inquire about the possibility of changing
the allocation of funds of the Occupancy Tax? Yes. Did I give or get
specifics ? No. I actually wanted to increase the occupancy tax.
I thought that this would be a good route for funding the project.
supported the bill that the Senator proposed because it was a good way
to fund the dredging projects. Just like beach nourishment, let the
visitors pay for dredging.”
is the BOC liaison assigned to the Task Force but when asked if Tobin
or Schiffman requested the changes in occupancy tax and, if so, where
did they get the authority to do so, she replied: “I have no idea what
Jim or Harry have said or done. I can only speak for myself.”
before that, Cook's aide, Hennessey, also refused to divulge whether
specific requests are coming from the Task Force members or from a
commissioner or commissioners.
And recently, other topics have become intertwined with the Oregon Inlet dredging issues.
Many are shaking their heads as they try to understand and sort out all
the talk about dredging Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet dredging concerns,
combining the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission with the Oregon
Inlet Task Force, and proposed legislation that pops up out of the blue
and seeks to redistribute occupancy dollars. The four topics have
become part of the same conversation but are really vastly different
The only thing that all interested parties seem to agree on is that
both Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet are in dire need of regular
The common denominator in all the controversies seems to be the Oregon
Inlet Task Force. Not only do we have problems with inlets – there also
is a problem of credibility.
(Sandy Semans is a retired newspaper editor and reporter who now works as a free-lance writer. She lives in Stumpy Point)