This is a recent e-mail from an Island Free Press reader:
What type of comments do you think would have the greatest impact? Maybe stories of what Hatteras Island and the beach mean to people, or more along the lines of numbers and stats?
This question from Jessie McAninch has been typical of inquiries from readers since the National Park Service released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on off-road vehicle rulemaking on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The public comment period on the DEIS opened March 12 and will remain open until May 11.
But for the average islander, off-island property owner, or lover of the seashore who vacations here every year, making sense of the intimidating 810-page report crammed full of charts and graphs and alternatives for access is intimidating.
And well it should be.
However, it is absolutely imperative that every single person who values our access to the seashore comments on this document that will determine where we can drive and walk on the beach for the next 10 or 15 years.
That means everyone. No excuses. Don’t put it off. No matter what your view, submit your comment to the Park Service.
No one is going to hand you a form letter or petition to sign because that will not be effective.
And make no mistake that well-funded environmental groups, such as National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, will pull out all the stops to get their members, contributors, and supporters to send in their comments to the Park Service.
The Coalition for Beach Access is ready to help you. But this small band of volunteers cannot compare with the big guys on the national scene in these conservation groups, which have already made it clear that if they don’t get what they want, they are willing to shut down the seashore beaches.
The coalition is hosting a series of workshops on the Outer Banks on April 12- 15 to help the public make sense of the DEIS, understand what it is about, and make constructive and appropriate comments.
There are more details on the workshops on the Beach Access and Park Issues Page, and much of the information that will be presented at the workshops will be available online soon for those of you who live here but cannot attend the meetings and those who do not live here but want to comment.
Now on to to the question Jessie McAninch and other readers have asked.
What should you say in your comments?
Do not dwell on what Hatteras and Ocracoke beaches mean to you.
“This is not a walk down memory lane,” says Anne Bowers, an OBPA board member who has been involved with planning the meetings.
“We are encouraging people to keep emotions out of it,” she added.
Natalie Kavanagh, another OBPA board member and a coalition organizer, emphasizes that point.
“Some bureaucrats in an office cubicle will be reading these comments,” she says, “and they don’t really care that we like to go to the beach.”
Kavanagh also notes that form letters and mass e-mails just won’t cut it. Folks must make individual comments.
She and Bowers suggested focusing on the issues that matter most to you – the economic impact on the islands, the fact that the Park Service is killing other mammals – also called predators – to protect the nesting birds. Or maybe you care about the increased restrictions on pets on the beach – even on a leash. Then there is the science behind the DEIS, which has been questioned by some, including me on this blog. Check out the blogs on “Keep asking them to show us the science” and “They are showing us the science?” that were posted in March.
The Coalition for Beach Access workshops will give you an overview of the DEIS and help you figure out how you want to respond.
Coalition members will go over points in the DEIS and preferred alternative that its members agree with and don’t agree with and why. You don’t have to agree with all of these points, but they will help you form the manner in which want to make your comments.
And, finally, there will be a session at the workshop about making your comments effective.
The most effective way to have input is to stay focused on the science and the issues and keep the emotional rhetoric out of it – or at least to a minimum.
I cannot emphasize enough that all of us who have a stake in pedestrian and ORV access to the beaches at the seashore must make comments to the Park Service.
You cannot figure that someone else will do it for you or that what you say doesn’t matter.
The off-island environmental groups are going to solicit plenty of comment.
We need to speak up for ourselves.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
An electronic copy of Coalition for Beach Access position paper on the DEIS can be downloaded at www.obpa-nc.org/position/statement.pdf
Electronic Copy of NPS DEIS can be downloaded at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=358&projectId=10641&documentID=32596
For information on making public comments: