June 26, 2015
State official endorses bond proposal that
would provide funds for Hatteras museum
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
funds to finish the Graveyard of the Atlantic in Hatteras could be
provided soon, but it might not be smart for supporters to hold their
The money would be forthcoming only if the General Assembly this
session backs Gov. McCrory’s “Connect NC” $2.85 billion bond proposal,
agrees to put it to a public referendum in November, and the public
votes to approve it.
One of the two $1.4 billion bonds would include $3.5 million to
fabricate and install the museum’s permanent exhibits for the
1,600-foot lobby and the 5,500-foot galleries, the final leg of the
project that broke ground in 1999.
The bonds are tailored to support transportation and public infrastructure improvements in 64 counties across the state.
“We understand that tourism is an economic driver. It’s a job creator,”
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz
told a small gathering at the museum on Thursday. “This is critical. We
firmly believe that if the people of North Carolina have a chance to
vote, this is going to happen.”
Kluttz said that the projects were selected based on their connection
to jobs, educational opportunities, and preservation of the state’s
heritage and quality of life. And the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
-- which memorializes the 2,000 or so ships lost to pirates, war and
weather off the coast -- is unique.
“There is no other history like the history found here,” she said.
But it doesn’t help that both the House and Senate members who
represent the Outer Banks in Raleigh are not – at least not yet –
supporting the governor’s measures.
“I have several concerns and I have expressed them to the
governor's office,” Rep. Paul Tine, U-Dare, said in an e-mail. “
Particularly there are issues with the revenue projections used to pay
back the bond and our capacity to take on debt strategically. With
interest rates so low, I understand the desire to move some projects
more quickly, but we have to make sure we are not setting ourselves up
for problems in the future.”
Tine, who is co-chair of the transportation committee, said that
further discussions are anticipated with state Transportation Secretary
Tony Tata and the governor’s budget director Lee Roberts “to see if a
responsible plan can be negotiated.”
State Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, also has his reservations about the bond.
“Yes, at this time the proposals to take on additional debt didn’t have
my support to be included in the budget, but again maybe it could be
addressed in a future bill,” Cook said in an e-mail, adding that
infrastructure needs are addressed in the proposed Senate budget. “Our
first priority should be maintaining our existing state buildings, and
that’s why our proposal shores up the Repairs and Renovations Fund by
$300 million – far more than any other year in recent memory – and
includes $30 million for capital improvements.”
Cook also said the Senate proposal provides “significant enhancements”
to transportation funding that allow pay-as-you-go for long-term
But Kluttz emphasized that the bond proposals would enable her
department, and others, to tend to some of the many underfunded
needs among the state’s cultural and historic assets, without having to
raise taxes. She urged citizens to contact their state legislators and
ask them to support the bond.
“I’m very thrilled at what would happen right here,” she said, “and I want this to happen so badly. And we need your help.”
Although the museum has managed from the beginning to be planned,
designed and constructed on a shoestring budget, it has needed about $3
million, more or less, since the early 2000s to complete the job. But
fundraising has been competitive and frustrating, and continually
coming up short.
Inspired by the discovery of the wreck of the famous Civil War ironclad
Monitor off Hatteras in 1973, villagers in Hatteras started the ball
rolling in the 1980s for a museum to house the ship’s artifacts in the
village in the 1980s. Over time, the concept expanded to interpret the
400-year maritime history of the Outer Banks.
By 2003, the museum’s exterior was completed, and the museum, partnered
with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the
National Park Service, opened with limited exhibits in completed areas
around the unfinished space. In 2007, the museum became one of the
state’s three maritime museums.
In recent years, a larger exhibit area has been opened, but since the museum is not completed, no fees have been charged.
Still, the facility has proved to be popular. Last year, more than
82,000 visitors came to the museum, which is located adjacent to the
ferry docks at the tip of the island.
“We have a state-owned asset right here, and we have a conceptual
design,” Kluttz said in an interview after the event. “We are ready to
go. It makes sense if you’re wanting to invest in tourism as an
To Danny Couch, the chairman of the museum’s Friend’s Group and one of
its most loyal supporters, he figures he might as well be optimistic
that the funding will come through.
“I just know that after 30 years,” he said, “at some point, it’s going to happen.”