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Hi, and welcome to my "Editor's Blog"! In this space I'll be attempting to keep our readers informed on fast-breaking news and issues affecting our islands. Visit often. There's a lot going on!

Enjoy the Island Free Press and, even more importantly, enjoy our wonderful barrier island!!!

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Updating Seashore News....WITH SLIDE SHOW

Friday 26 June 2015 at 4:37 pm

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac had a media roundtable discussion with reporters last week that covered a number of topics and ended with a tour of a new infrastructure project that the park is rightly quite proud of.

We met with Hallac and several key members of his staff at the Principal Lightkeeper's Quarters in Buxton on Wednesday, the day after the seashore released the final version of its wildlife buffer modifications, which it was required to do under legislation passed last December in Congress.  

The changes are aimed at opening up more public access -- for ORVs and pedestrians -- during the nesting season for shorebirds and sea turtles.

The new buffer distances modify buffers for nesting for every species of birds and turtles currently protected on the seashore -- some more than others. A fact that some of us find ironic is that buffers for the federally protected piping plover are being altered more than those for other birds, which are listed only as species of special concern to the state.  

For example, buffers for colonial waterbirds -- black skimmers, common terns and gull-billed terns -- are being reduced from 200 meters for ORVs and pedestrians to only 180, which won't make much of a difference for access. However, with additional and more intensive monitoring of chicks, buffers for unfledged piping plovers can be reduced from 1,000 meters to as few as 500 -- and down to 250 with an ORV corridor in some circumstances.

The park may be able to implement some of these changes -- for example, the addition of monitored "corridors" in front of sea turtle nests -- by this fall.  However, all of the changes will not happen until next year's nesting season because the park must hire additional staff members for monitoring.

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Moving forward with the Bonner Bridge replacement

Friday 19 June 2015 at 4:28 pm

We've had a lot of good news this week on the islands, but topping the list has got to be the announcement of an end to the 25-year struggle to replacing the decrepit Herbert C. Bonner bridge over Oregon Inlet.

All of the parties to the legal wrangling over the new bridge met at the north end of Hatteras Island on Monday to announce a negotiated settlement that will allow The North Carolina Department of Transportation to move forward -- with a new span over Oregon Inlet and solutions to two of the most troublesome areas on Highway 12 in Pea Island refuge.

Even Gov. Pat McCrory flew in for a news conference on a narrow sandy beach on the southside of Oregon Inlet. Parties to the bridge lawsuit, county and state officials, reporters and cameramen, and some islanders gathered in record-high temperatures under a broiling sun to hear statements on the settlement.

The aging Bonner Bridge, opened in 1963 with a useful lifespan of 30 years, in the background behind the speakers provided the perfect photo-op for the occasion. Despite the stifling conditions, the atmosphere was light and upbeat, and a few folks from both sides of the bridge debate joined to wade barefoot in the inlet waters.

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DOT claims payments to idle contractor are 'confidential'

Friday 12 June 2015 at 4:43 pm

It's been nine months this week -- 276 days -- since the North Carolina Department of Transportation announced that it was stopping work on the permanent bridge over Pea Island Inlet and entering into negotiations with the Southern Environmental Law Center to end the legal wrangling over replacing the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet and bridging overwash-prone areas along Highway 12.

At the time, NCDOT released this statement:

"Because of the confidential nature of these discussions, no additional statements will be released on this issue from NCDOT or conservation groups until conversations are complete and the issue is resolved."

And, true to their word, neither DOT nor the environmental groups have had one word to say about what's being negotiated -- totally out of public view.

Most Hatteras islanders are not happy that they have been totally shut out of the process and know nothing of what's on the table.  We are, after all, the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on the outcome of this secret process. And it's become clear that the lack of a clear-cut path to a new bridge and reliable highway is a drag on the island's economy.

Most of us thought the negotiations might go on a few months, maybe to the end of the year.  Then we thought that maybe there would be some announcement after the first of the year.

But then in February, the negotiating parties went back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked to be allowed to enter into mediation with a court-appointed mediator.

Apparently, just trying to work out a solution on their own wasn't working out too well.

The court agreed, and we thought that maybe this spring there would be an announcement that a resolution had been reached -- or not.

But spring has just about come and gone, and still the parties are silent on what's going on around the negotiating table.

On Hatteras Island, the sound of silence is deafening.

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