National Park Service said today that it will publish some changes to
the final rule on off-road vehicles in the Cape Hatteras National
Seashore in the Federal Register tomorrow -- on Dec. 21.
The changes are
the final step in requirements that Congress mandated in the National
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The legislation
required that the seashore modify wildlife protection buffers,
accelerate the construction of vehicle access points and roads, report
back to Congress within one year of the date of the NDAA, and undertake
a public process to consider changes to the final rule on ORV
protection buffers were modified in June 2015, all vehicle access
points were constructed, and a report to Congress was finalized before
the end of December 2015.
The Park Service has been working on the final part of the requirements --the change in the rule.
Specifically, the legislation required the seashore to consider three specific changes:
- Morning opening of beaches that are closed to ORV use at night, which is now 7 a.m.
- Dates for seasonal ORV routes
- Size and location of Vehicle Free Areas (VFAs).
- In addition, seashore officials added these changes to the ones that are required:
- Dates that ORV permits are valid -- different lengths of time currently exist, which is either a weekly or annual permit.
- Revising an
ORV route designation to allow pedestrian use of a soundside area on
Ocracoke Island without requirement for an ORV permit,
- Extending the existing bypass route at Cape Point.
published an Environmental Assessment in February 2016. That document
can be found here. The environmental assessment included a preferred
alternative that described proposed changes and impacts of those
alternatives, to the seashore’s final rule for ORV management.
regulations are required to change existing regulations for ORV use on
National Park Service lands. The final rule largely describes the
technical details that are required to implement the Seashore’s
The Park Service had public scoping meetings before the EA was developed and after it was presented to the public.
Also, proposed changes to the final rule were published in the Federal Register in August.
Yesterday, the NPS published a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on its proposed changes.
The next step is to publish the final changes to the final rule in the Federal Register.
Here are the highlights.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Currently, they are open from Nov. 1 through March 31.
The proposed rule would modify the size and location of vehicle-free areas and improve access in some locations.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
The rulemaking process does not provide for a public comment period for a final rule.
The final rule
will be effective in no fewer than 30 days after the date of
publication in the Federal Register. The seashore intends to implement
most changes, other than those that require construction, prior to the
2017 summer season.
For full details on the Final Rule, go to the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/21/2016-30735/special-regulations-areas-of-the-national-park-system-cape-hatteras-national-seashore----off-road (Document #: 2016-3035). To view the FONSI, go to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectID=59571&documentID=76714.