Right now, the only beach in Buxton open to ORVs is four-tenths of a mile at Ramp 43. It’s a cul-de-sac with two-tenths of a mile open north and south of the ramp.
A few days ago, the National Park Service closed Ramp 44, the main ramp to Cape Point, because of breeding behavior exhibited by American oystercatchers. There had been a small amount of beach open there.
Access to the Point has been closed for several weeks by closures for oystercatchers between Ramp 44 and Cape Point.
And Ramp 45, to the southwest of the Point, which was already just another four-tenths of a mile cul-de-sac was closed down last weekend.
Just four-tenths of a mile. That’s fairly amazing. These oystercatchers are neither endangered or threatened under federal law. They are listed as species of special concern by the state of North Carolina. The oystercatchers that have been causing havoc around Ramp 44 are a young pair that apparently can’t decide where they want to nest. There is no nest and there are no eggs. The two are just apparently moving up and down the beach doing their “scraping” behavior, which I gather is the bird equivalent of foreplay.
No matter, the court-ordered consent decree requires that the beach be closed to ORVs and pedestrians.
So businesses in Buxton, who rely largely on visitors who come to visit Cape Point, mostly for fishing, will suffer again as they did last year.
“I’m at my wit’s end,” says Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton. “I’m mad. In fact, I’m furious.”
Eakes’ business was down significantly last year because of the consent-decree ordered closures that started in early May. This year he estimates that it’s down about 50 percent.
“Will I make it another year?” he asks. “I just don’t know.”
He’s already laid off two employees, and beach access probably won’t get any better in Buxton until at least the end of the shorebird nesting season in August.
Another Buxton businessman, John Robert Hooper, who owns the Lighthouse View Motel, says his business suffered last year and has been down again this spring. He estimates that his spring and fall were down 25 percent last year and his summer about 15 percent.
He’s not looking for that to change this year.
“Clearly, Buxton depends on Cape Point,” Hooper says, “and not just for fishermen.”
He notes that the area in the “cove,” the hook of the Point, is popular for windsurfers and kiteboarders, and that the area is popular in the summer with families.
Some publications and some environmental groups are fond of noting that even with the consent decree, the Outer Banks did not suffer economically last year.
It is true that for Dare County as a whole, occupancy tax receipts were slightly up during the summer tourist season. Occupancy taxes are paid on cottages, motels, campgrounds, and bed and breakfast establishments.
However, if you separate out Hatteras Island from the rest of the county, you will see that the economy here was not good last summer.
A chart that was prepared by Dare County focuses only on Hatteras Island occupancy taxes and separates each the seven villages to compare gross occupancy taxes by month between 2007, before the consent decree, and 2008, when the consent decree became effective May 1.
Ignore the statistics for March and April. All of the taxes totals in all of the villages were up in March and down in April because Easter was in March last year.
Then look at the months from May through December.
All of the villages were down at some point, most for several months, probably from a combination of reduced beach access and gas prices.
But no village was down as consistently as Buxton, which had a brutal year.
After a modest 1 percent increase in occupancy for May, the village was down for the rest of the year – mostly in double digits.
June was down only 8.4 percent. July was down 12 percent. August fell behind by 24.5 percent. And it goes on – September, 25.3 percent; October, 23.6 percent; November, 37.3 percent, and December 26.15 percent.
Most of this loss of income can be directly tied to beach closures at Cape Point, which continued into August. The losses for the rest of the year, most Buxton business people, say is because of the anxiety of visitors, who read about the closures and canceled their plans.
The Park Service is required to look at the socio-economic impacts of ORV rulemaking under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The park is working with Research Triangle Institute International to develop a model to project economic impacts.
Unfortunately, this study was not commissioned in time to be part of the failed negotiated rulemaking process, but the study will be part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on ORV regulations, which is expected to be completed in the fall of next year.
The consent decree will remain in place this summer and probably next summer, since legislation to get rid of it and return to the park’s interim management strategy seems to be going nowhere in Congress.
So, it seems as if businesses on Hatteras and Ocracoke, and especially in Buxton, will continue to face scary economic times.
And one last note that I will continue to reiterate this summer. Cape Point and some other popular beaches may be closed, but there are beaches open and they will be open all summer. If you have a vacation planned or want to plan one, you will be able to drive to the beach.
For more information, see the article “There will be beaches open, but not all will be open all of the time.”