In a status conference today in Raleigh, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle kept in place a consent decree that settled a lawsuit against the National Park Service over its lack of an off-road vehicle plan and its management of protected species.
The consent decree was set to expire on Feb. 15, the day that the Park Service?s ORV plan and final rule for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore became effective.
At the conference today, Boyle said he would keep the consent decree in place for 120 days and meet again with the parties in June to assess the status of a lawsuit by beach access groups to stop the ORV plan and final rule.
That lawsuit was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance.
Meanwhile, though the consent decree remains, the seashore is still operating under its final ORV management plan and special regulation.
Boyle apparently wants to be sure that if a court rules in favor of CHAPA, that there is still a consent decree to fall back on.
So, Judge Boyle is neither gone nor forgotten.
And if you are waiting for the final rule to be stopped so you don?t have to get an ORV permit, you can forget it — unless you want to stay off the beach for a while.
Also yesterday, the same environmental groups that sued the Park Service in 2007 filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Park Service in the CHAPA lawsuit. This time, Defenders of Wildlife and National Audubon Society are joined by the National Parks Conservation Association.
I guess it?s just one of life?s small ironies. And I also guess it means that the environmental groups are pretty satisfied with the way the final plan turned out.
Click here to read the full story on Boyle?s status hearing today in Raleigh.
CLARIFYING THE ?TRANSITION? PERIOD
When the National Park Service announced its final rule and released information about obtaining the off-road vehicle permit for driving on the beach of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, park officials said there would be a one-month ?transition? period to allow time for everyone to get the permits.
As it turns out, I ? and others ? have misunderstood the meaning of the ?transition? period.
I took it to mean that drivers on the beaches without a permit would not be ticketed for driving on the beaches until March 15 ? sort of a ?grace? period.
National Park Service officials have now set us straight.
That?s not true.
You can possibly receive a ticket.
?Individuals that do not have a ORV permit (weekly or yearly) will be contacted by rangers and advised of the permit requirement and told where they may obtain a permit,? seashore Chief Ranger Paul Stevens said in an e-mail. ?If the same operator is contacted a second time, during the transition period, they may be issued a written warning. If the same operator of the vehicle is contacted a third time, during the transition period, they may be issued a violation notice.?
Stevens said in a phone conversation that seashore rangers have some latitude and can use their discretion about when to issue a violation notice rather than a warning.
But you should not assume that you can drive on the beach whenever you want between now and March 15 and not be ticketed.
So, maybe it?s time to get your permit if you intend to.
Stevens also said that questions have come up about whether it?s legal in North Carolina and some other state to affix your annual sticker to the lower left corner of your windshield, as the park requires.
He said the researched the issue in North Carolina, and the placement is legal.
The Island Free Press continues to get questions about rented ORVs.
The Park Service?s FAQ on off-road vehicle use says:
?In general, the person renting or leasing the vehicle should be the one applying for the ORV permit. Businesses that rent vehicles specifically for beach driving may obtain annual ORV permits for their fleet of rental vehicles and allow renters to use the permitted vehicles. The operator of the vehicle, whoever that may be, must obey the ORV regulations. The business-owned permit can be revoked if a customer violates the regulations.?
So if you intend to rent a vehicle for your trip to the seashore, you can obtain a permit ? but only for a week. If you come back in another rented vehicle later in the year, you need another permit.
Stevens said that a couple of businesses on Hatteras have approached the Park Service about their vehicles. They can get, he said, a permit for the vehicle so renters will not have to apply for their own permits.
The new speed limit on the beach is 15 mph, except when you are within 100 feet of pedestrians, when you must slow to 5 mph.
During the summer especially, just about any ORV route that is open will take you within 100 yards of pedestrians for much, if not most, of your travel.
Some readers have commented on my previous blog that you cannot travel in the sand at 5 mph and not get stuck.
Stevens says that slowing down for pedestrians is a safety issue and that he doesn?t think it?s going to cause ?major problems.?
Also, remember that you have to travel on the landward side of pedestrians ? no matter how wide and flat the beach is in front of them.
Beach fires are still permitted in the seashore.
However, you must have a permit for a beach fire, the hours that fires are allowed are limited, and the places you can have a fire are restricted from May 1-Nov. 15.
The permit is free, but you must go to a permit office, visitor center, or Park Service campground to get the permit. Permits are required year-round.
Beach fires are prohibited from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. year-round.
From May 1 until Nov. 15 beach fires are allowed ONLY on the ocean beaches in front of Coquina Beach; the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras, and the Ocracoke Day Use Area. During those dates fires are prohibited on all other seashore beaches, including those in front of campgrounds.
Other beach fire rules:
- All fires must be no greater than 3 feet in diameter.
- The use of treated wood products and wood containing nails and other foreign material for fire construction is not allowed.
- Disposal of glass, plastics, and cans in fires is prohibited. (Pack in/pack out all trash.)
- Ground fires are prohibited in all other portions of the seashore, including campgrounds. Fires within designated campgrounds must be contained in a grill, stove, or other self-contained unit and are allowed for cooking only.
- Fires must be fully extinguished and cold to touch.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here for the Park Service?s frequently asked questions on ORV operation on the seashore.
Click here to read the environmental groups? motion to intervene in the CHAPA lawsuit to stop the Park Service?s ORV plan and final rule.