Legislators visit Hyde County, get an earful about tolling ferries
By CONNIE LEINBACH
The Ocracoke Observer
legislators who spent three days in Hyde County earlier this week were
impressed with the county and the passion of islanders who traveled to
speak on behalf of keeping the Hatteras Ferry free.
County Manager Bill Rich on Wednesday said that thanks to the efforts
of Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) and Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk), the 10
members of the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (ARPO) voted
unanimously on Wednesday to postpone any vote on tolling that ferry.
Tolling the Hatteras Ferry is all about finding money to pay for replacement boats.
said they would wait until the spring short session to see if the
General Assembly can agree to take ferry replacement (a capital
expense) out of the $32 million allotted to the ARPO,” Rich said. “This
is one of the results of Monday’s meeting.”
a new funding system by Gov. Pat McCrory, the state was divided into 10
districts and given allotments from which to fund all manner of
transportation projects in a competitive process. That formula
includes ferry boat replacement, and competes with road, bridge, rail
and other transportation projects.
of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and
Long Term Funding Solutions, chaired by Torbett, convened on the
mainland at The Outpost near Engelhard on Monday.
islanders spoke to them in the morning. Then, around noon, the
group was transported to the ferry dock in Swan Quarter where more than
20 islanders, who had traveled on the Swan Quarter ferry that morning,
had gathered to speak on the importance of the ferries to Ocracoke.
Rich said the committee members were amazed at how big the mainland was.
what really impressed them was when we pulled up to the ferry dock and
how many (islanders) were there and how passionate the people were,” he
said about the islanders’ visit.
Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, spoke about how critical
the ferry service (especially the free Hatteras Ferry) is to the
island, and that with the advent of the long route, business has
dropped about 25 percent.
it’s not because people don’t want to come to Ocracoke,” added islander
Bill Jones. Long lines creating long waits have hampered visitors’
access to the island.
Horn, travel and tourism director for the Ocracoke Civic and Business
Association, told the group that most all of the visitors who call
about visiting the island are excited about traveling here on the ferry
and that it’s one of the selling points.
“It’s part of the tourist attraction to ride the ferry,” she said. “The magic begins on the ferry ride here.”
Torbett said in a later interview that holding the meeting in Hyde County opened a lot of legislative eyes.
didn’t understand the impact of tolling and that if you toll roads,
there are other options drivers have,” he said. Islanders don’t have
the several million that a Hatteras toll might collect would be eaten
up with the administrative costs DOT would incur to collect those tolls.
“Our hope is to put (ferry replacement funding) into the highway system,” he said.
Torbett understands islanders’ need to have reliable car ferries, he
thinks the addition of passenger ferries would help the relieve the
pressure on the car ferries.
Tine, also in a later interview, said the members could see that ferries should be treated as “floating bridges.”
He said he was impressed with Ocracokers’ comments and their passion during the noon gathering at the dock.
“But we still have a lot of work to convince the Senate,” he said.
of the legislators had never been on a ferry, Rich said, and they were
impressed with the tours they took of the vessels at the dock.
those who spoke in the morning to the committee was islander Tom Pahl,
who pointed out that islanders pay, as equals with the other residents
of North Carolina, the North Carolina gasoline tax as well as state and
federal income taxes.
it is only fair that the residents of Ocracoke should, as equals, have
access to the services and infrastructure of the North Carolina
Department of Transportation,” he said. “We have repeatedly
addressed this issue, locally, as a community, and statewide in the
legislature. We are occasionally able to set it aside, but it
keeps coming back.”
He said the RPO funding mechanism is flawed.
fully support Representative Tine in his effort to remove that
requirement from the RPO funding system, and I strongly urge the
members of this committee to look at this issue and work with
Representative Tine in that effort,” he said.
other locals who spoke against tolling the Hatteras ferry were Danny
Couch of Hatteras, who is running unopposed for a Dare County
commissioner seat, and Earl Pugh Jr, who is chairman of the Hyde County
Board of Commissioners.
Styron, owner of the Sweet Tooth, said she had talked individually to
some of the committee members about the downward domino effect a toll
on the Hatteras ferry would have.
people decide not to come, it cuts down on sales, and sales taxes,” she
said. “Some businesses would have to lay off employees and if they
don’t have jobs they can’t afford to pay for their houses and cars.”
She praised the islanders who sacrificed a day to travel across the Sound to visit with the legislators.
thankful for the people in this community who took the time to come
over,” she said. “It was a one-day sacrifice for something that affects
the rest of your life.”
he did not attend the meetings, state Sen. Bill Cook said he is
adamantly opposed to any type of a ferry tax, and that he has been
opposed to the institution of tolls or increasing tolls on all ferry
routes in North Carolina since beginning his legislative career.
are several other alternatives to ferry tolling, such as advertising or
concession contracts that could make up for the lost in revenue,” he
the meeting on transportation, the legislators and other business
people had an economic development summit, organized by Hyde County
Economic Development Department, on projects on the mainland,
chiefly the airport and completing the renovation of Mattamuskeet
Lodge into a lodging facility.
article is reprinted from The Ocracoke Observer. For more news
and features on Ocracoke Island, visit the website at www.ocracokeobserver.com.)