You have allowed your treasured seashore to be turned into a wildlife refuge where only birds are welcome, other animals trapped or shot and killed, and humans not allowed. Shame on you! It is a crime against humanity what has been allowed to take place on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. Shame on you again for not fighting for your treasured seashore that people have enjoyed for decades! The once thriving islands have turned into ghost towns because of the lack of visitors. You have additionally alienated the physically challenged from areas of your beaches, as well as older folks. Shame on you again. I wonder what tax base the birds will create because shortly that is all that will remain!
The ferry fee issue is just the tip of the iceberg for you folks, and you deserve every problem you have allowed to happen. Shame on you. Thinking of what you have allowed to transpire makes me sick to my stomach! We will be taking our treasured, hard-earned vacation budget and spending it in a more tourist-friendly atmosphere!
--Island Free Press reader from Fredericksburg, Va.
Have I got your attention now?
Are you angry?
Well, you should be on several levels, and you should not be angry just at the attitude of this letter writer.
Island Free Press received this comment just hours after we posted an article about the efforts underway in Raleigh to add fees on free ferries, including the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, which has the highest ridership in the Ferry Division. Tolls would also be increased on the three routes that now charge, including the Cedar Island-Ocracoke and the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferries
It is a real letter, and the sender included his name. I’ve included where he lives, but decided for safety’s sake – his – not to print his name.
And his name isn’t really the point here.
We have a right to be angry with this writer’s view that we have brought ruin on ourselves, that we deserve what we get, and that we should be ashamed of all we have done to ruin the island for visitors.
Yes, the guy needs an attitude adjustment.
But the point here is that there are people out there who do feel that Hatteras and Ocracoke are no longer welcoming destinations for tourists. I know this because I have published many letters since the extensive resource closures under the consent decree that started in 2008.
They are letters from visitors who say that are not coming back to our islands because of the beach closures, like the one that kept Cape Point off limits for three months last summer.
If you go into our Archives (at the bottom of the Front Page), you can read past Letters to the Editor and see for yourself that some people say they just are not coming back again.
And it’s not enough just to tell some of these folks that the beaches are open and you can drive on some of them even during bird and turtle nesting season. The closures have made many of the most popular areas for families, fishermen, and beachcombers off limits most of the summer. In addition to Cape Point, that includes Bodie Island Spit, Hatteras Inlet Spit, and the north and south points on Ocracoke.
Now we are having to tell people that in addition to losing access to these large areas, they are going to have to pay to drive on the beach, a historic and cultural tradition here ever since there have been motorized vehicles.
Not only do island natives consider beach driving a right, but it’s a major draw for many who have relocated here and work in the tourism industry and for many, many of our visitors.
The National Park Service stated its intention to implement fees and permits in the Final Environmental Impact Statement that it issued late last year. And there will be more details on fees and permits when the park issues its proposed and then final rule on off-road vehicles at the seashore.
Seashore Superintended Mike Murray has said that the rule, along with fees and permits, could be in place by the fall.
And our visitors may well have to pay a hefty amount to get a permit for their one-week vacation -- even though if it’s in the summer, they might not be able to drive on the beach anyway. Those of us who live here will also pay.
The Record of Decision on the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was issued on Dec. 20, says this “…permit fees are expected to be higher due to the level of management required for implementation” of the ORV rule.
Now, a proposal to raise tolls on ferries that now charge them and add tolls to the free ferries seems to be gathering steam in Raleigh.
The issue is not something new. It periodically surfaces because the tolls that are now charged don’t come close to covering the cost of the state’s ferry system.
It may be cynical, but some think this idea is being fast-tracked by the Republicans who captured a majority in both the state House and the Senate for the first time in over a century. And perhaps it’s being fast tracked by lawmakers from the central and western parts of the state who have long chafed under what they have perceived as special treatment for the coastal counties by Manteo Democrat Marc Basnight, who was President Pro Tempore of the Senate for several decades and one of the most powerful politicians in the state. (He won re-election in November but lost his position as President to a Republican and resigned for health reasons in January.)
Interestingly, Republicans introduced a bill yesterday in the General Assembly to repeal the ban on plastic bags on the Outer Banks of Dare, Hyde, and Currituck counties. The ban was a signature achievement of Basnight’s environmental agenda.
The Ferry Division budget and adding or raising tolls was discussed by budget committees in the General Assembly last spring.
According to an article in the News & Observer of Raleigh, costs of the ferry system were a topic at a meeting in May of the House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee.
"It's a regional issue," said Rep. Nelson Cole of Reidsville, the subcommittee's co-chairman in the article. "It's hard to convince people in the mountains that we should be supporting the ferries to that extent, when the toll fees are the most reasonable anywhere."
On Tuesday, there was a joint meeting of the House and the Senate transportation subcommittee, at which the cost of operating ferries was discussed again.
According to an article in the Star-News of Wilmington, Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, vice chairman of the House subcommittee, agreed that the state must recover a larger percentage of its ferry costs.
And the article said he suggested charging higher rates in the busy summer months to bring in additional cash from tourists. Keeping rates lower in the winter would spare locals from having to pay higher rates the entire year.
So it appears that we are now looking at charging tourists perhaps $20 for a day trip to and from Ocracoke, which is one of the most popular visitor activities on all of the Outer Banks. And raising the tolls on the ferries to Ocracoke from Cedar Island and Swan Quarter.
By the way, a toll on the Hatteras Inlet ferry would make Ocracoke the only community in the state that you have to pay to travel to or from. This has serious implications, beyond the economy, for Ocracokers.
The economy of the villages in the seashore has already suffered from the beach closures under the consent decree – especially tackle shops, motels and hotels, and campgrounds.
Now we are looking at $4 for a gallon of gas by summer – it’s already $3.79 a gallon at most stations– plus beach closures, plus a fee to drive on the beach, plus a toll on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry.
Who can blame visitors for getting fed up?
We who live here are fed up.
We don’t agree with our letter writer’s misguided placing of blame on islanders for ruining Hatteras and Ocracoke for tourists.
Many islanders, off-island property owners, and visitors have worked long and hard as volunteers to keep reasonable beach access for all – pedestrians as well as ORVs. Many have raised money for access advocacy groups or donated to them. They fought the Park Service on many of its proposals for regulating access.
We have tried, and we have lost at just about every turn.
However, I can understand why some visitors feel that Hatteras and Ocracoke are no longer tourist-friendly islands.
We cannot keep piling bad news on visitors, islanders, and island businesses in today’s fragile economy.
We should all remind the Republicans in Raleigh of something we hear a lot from them -- it’s all about the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs.
We should urge them to put new ferry tolls and increases on the back burner, while we deal with other blows to our Outer Banks economy.