August 22, 2016


NPS publishes proposed changes to ORV rule

By IRENE NOLAN

The National Park Service today published in the Federal Register its proposed changes to The Cape Hatteras National Seashore's final rule for off-road vehicle management that became effective in 2012.

Three of proposed changes that were published today include new opening times for seashore beaches, new dates for use of seasonal ORV routes, changes to the size of several vehicle-free areas.

These changes were required by the 2015 Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress in December 2014, that required park officials to consider changes that would allow more public access to seashore beaches.

During the process, seashore officials also decided to include several other changes to the rule. So the proposed changes published today also include changes to ORV permit durations and access improvement on Ocracoke and Hatteras.

Today's proposed rules have also been through several layers of public scrutiny -- including a public scoping meeting last summer and a winter meeting on the Environmental Assessment document that was prepared to compare alternatives the park could consider when changing the rule.

The proposed changes to the rule that are published today are open for public comment through Oct. 21.

That document contains a "no action" alternative, and three action alternatives. The Park Service's preferred alternative, Alternative 2, might also be called the "middle- of-the-road alternative." Generally, it allows more generous access than Alternative 1 but not as much as Alternative 3.

Click here to see how the alternatives were compared by the Park Service back in February.

The proposed rules published today would make the following changes to the final rule.

BEACH OPENING TIMES

Most ORV routes would continue to open at 7 a.m., as they now do under the ORV rule. Certain "priority" beach routes could be opened earlier than 7 a.m., though no earlier than 6 a.m.

Priority routes, the Park Service said, were chosen by their proximity to villages and popularity with users. They would include Ramps 2, 4, 25, 27, 43, 44, 48, 49, 70 and 72.  NPS resource staff would patrol these priority routes before opening so that park resources would be protected even while earlier access is allowed.

The NPS is proposing to amend the special regulation to state "no earlier than 6 a.m." instead of stating a specific time in the regulation. Instead beach opening times would be published annually in the Superintendent's Compendium.

The Superintendent's Compendium is a summary of regulations  that pertain specifically to the administration of the park, such as areas closed for public use and activities that require special permits, that are up to the discretion of the superintendent and do not require going through the federal rulemaking process.

This process will give the superintendent more flexibility over beach opening times without having to go through the cumbersome and lengthy federal rulemaking process each time.

SEASONAL ORV ROUTES

Under the proposed rule, seasonal ORV routes in front of the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Frisco, and Hatteras and the Ocracoke Campground would be expanded by two weeks in the spring and fall. Under the new rule, these seasonal routes would be open from Oct. 15 through April 14

Currently, they are open from Nov. 1 through March 31.

VEHICLE-FREE AREAS

The proposed rule would modify the size and location of vehicle-free areas and improve access in some locations.

The proposed Ramps 2.5 on Bodie Island and 59.5 on Ocracoke would not be constructed. Ramp 2 would be restored to ORV use, extending the existing ORV route by a half-mile to the north and providing ORV access to the route from either Ramp 4 or Ramp 2. Ramp 59 would continue to be open to ORV use, extending the existing year-round ORV route about a half-mile.

The seasonal ORV route at Ramp 34 would be extended 1 mile to the north into what is now a vehicle-free area. And the seasonal route at Ramp 23 would be extended 1.5 miles to the south into what is a vehicle-free area.

According to the proposed rule, "The NPS proposes making these changes to these particular VFAs because it would slightly increase ORV access on each of the islands without measurably impacting visitor experience, safety, sensitive wildlife species, or workload complexity of park staff."

The change at Ramp 23 is especially important to residents of and visitors to the tri-villages, where ORV access is limited in the summer months.

Many wanted to see changes to the VFA south of Cape Point, in the area of the Hook, which is not in the proposal.

PERMIT DURATIONS

The Park Service is proposing to remove the specific times established for the duration of ORV permits from the special regulation and instead control the duration of the permits through the Superintendent's Compendium.

This means that any future changes to the duration would require the proper compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but would not require going through the more complicated rulemaking process.

In choosing Alternative 2, the Park Service would change year-round permits from being valid for the calendar year to being valid from the day they are issued -- a change that has long been asked for by beach drivers.

The current 7-day permit would be changed to a 10-day permit, which, the NPS says, could allow many users to access the beaches over two weekends.

OCRACOKE ACCESS IMPROVEMENTS

The proposed rule would remove the ORV route designation from Devil Shoals Road, also know as Dump Station Road. This is an existing dirt road located across Highway 12 from the Ocracoke Campground.

This road would be designated a park road and no ORV permit would be required for driving on it.

The NPS says it proposed these changes to allow for limited vehicular soundside access on Ocracoke Island without the requirement of an ORV permit, since there is currently no soundside vehicular access areas on Ocracoke as there are on the other seashore islands.

HATTERAS ISLAND ACCESS IMPROVEMENT

The proposed rule would extend the existing Cape Point bypass route south of Ramp 44 by four-tenths of a mile to the north so it will join with Ramp 44. NPS also proposes extending the existing bypass approximately 600 feet to the south.

The Park Service proposes extending the bypass to provide additional access to Cape Point when the ORV route along the beach is closed for safety or resource protection.

Although the southern extension was not originally part of the Environmental Assessment, impacts associated with the bypass route extension would be negligible at most and would have no impact on wetlands.

You can read the entire document at the federal rulemaking portal, http://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NPS_FRDOC_0001-0104.

MAKING PUBLIC COMMENT

Superintendent David Hallac says that the Park Service will evaluate all public comments, make a decision and publish a final rule, which will become effective 30 days after it is published. He says he is hopeful that the rule changes will go into effect before next summer.

Public comment may be made by several methods:

All submissions received must include the agency name and Regulatory Identifier Number (RIN) for this rulemaking, 1024-AE33.

Comments submitted through http://www.regulations.gov or submitted by mail must be entered or postmarked before midnight (Eastern Daylight Time) Oct. 21, 2016 Comments submitted by hand delivery must be received by the close of business hours (5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time) Oct. 21, 2016.

All comments received through the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov will be available without change. Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment, including your personal identifying information, may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask the Park Service in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information, the agency cannot guarantee that it will be able to do so. To view comments received through the Federal eRulemaking portal, go to http://www.regulations.gov and enter 1024-AE33 in the search box.

The Park Service notes that

"Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any way other than those specified above, and bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted. If you commented on the EA, your comments have already been considered in drafting the proposed rule. Comments should focus on this proposed rule; comments that relate solely to the EA will be untimely and will not be considered."

Answers to frequently asked questions are available here: https://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/news/16_051.htm.


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