Superintendent of the National Park Service Outer Banks Group, Barclay Trimble, announced last November that because of continuing cuts to the NPS budget, the seashore would see cuts in services to visitors this year and among them would be the elimination of lifeguarded beaches.
At the time, seashore officials noted that with the cuts proposed last November, the Outer Banks Group?s budget of about $9.5 million will have been cut a total of 8 percent since 2012.
So, the plan was to axe the $200,000 the park spends for lifeguards for about three months ? from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The beaches are at Coquina Beach, Buxton, and Ocracoke Day Use Area.
There was some concern and grumbling back in November, then there was silence until the summer season drew closer. As folks started thinking more about no longer having lifeguards, the protests have grown louder, especially on Ocracoke where an online petition is circulating to reinstall lifeguarded beaches.
People in both Hyde and Dare counties are enlisting the aid of the state?s Congressional delegation, especially U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who has been especially helpful in intervening in other flaps with the Park Service.
Lifeguarded beaches are a visitor service that dates back at least 50 years on the seashore, where rip currents can make swimming in the ocean dangerous, especially for those who are not initiated in how to safely navigate the rough water.
In past years, there have been more lifeguarded beaches, but over the years, the number has been cut back to three.
As the discussion continues, the Park Service is looking pretty lame.
You might take the view that Trimble and his bosses in Atlanta and Washington can?t take all the blame. After all, it is Congress that sets the budget that keeps shrinking.
But, at this particular time when the new off-road vehicle plan and the protection of nesting shorebirds and turtles is especially contentious, the argument to cut lifeguards seems especially insensitive or ill-conceived or just plain dumb.
This park has an overall budget of more than $9 million and is taking in another $2-plus million in the sale of ORV permits.
It is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect birds and turtles ? maybe several million, but it?s hard to tell because the seashore is less than transparent on how much its different programs cost. (And that?s a subject for a blog in the near future.)
So, it?s just fine to spend all that money on birds and turtles, and the Park Service can?t find $200,000 to protect the park?s human visitors?
That?s a slippery road to travel, and I can?t say that the local park officials are navigating it very smoothly.
In recent days, after much well-placed criticism and outrage, Trimble is finally looking into other alternatives and has said the seashore will explore the idea of contracting with a lifeguard service, but only for five days a week.
If localities want seven-day coverage, they will have to kick in $10,000 per beach.
Trimble has repeatedly said this week that all of this is preliminary, that nothing is decided, and that all is being negotiated.
It appears from the statements he?s made this week, that he is looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $85,000 for five-day lifeguard coverage. And he has apparently been advised that the two extra days will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000.
Well, that?s a total of $115,000. Makes you wonder why if NPS could provide the service for that amount that it?s been spending $200,000 per year.
It?s ill-advised and really tacky for the Park Service to be haggling over what is peanuts compared to what is spent on bird and turtle protection.
Along the way, Trimble has made some comments that make the Park Service look even more lame.
According to Jim Keene of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association and several of his colleagues, Trimble told them in a meeting, as an aside, that the citizens of Ocracoke are interested only in their rating from Dr. Beach.
One of Dr. Beach?s criteria in his Top Ten Beaches is that lifeguard protection is provided. For Trimble?s information, Ocracoke?s beach was rated the top beach in America in 2007 and is now retired from the running.
According to Keene and others, Trimble claims that once visitors step into the water, they are no longer on NPS property and that others should be responsible for their safety.
Come on, Trimble. Really?
And, finally, he told IFP reporter Connie Leinbach yesterday that fewer than 10 percent of visitors use the lifeguarded beaches.
Come on, again. So the 10 percent, many with children, who choose lifeguarded beaches, shouldn?t have that option? And 10 percent is quite a few folks in the summer months.
Trimble says that the $2-plus million collected for ORV fees can?t be used for lifeguarded beaches because they are an ongoing program and are not related to ORV use.
Well, I am sure that the park hopes that the ORV permits and other expenditures that come with the new plan are also ongoing programs.
Surely, all the smart folks in Park Service management can figure out a way to relate lifeguarded beaches to the new plan. Maybe like they protect beachgoers from death by ORVs as they enter and exit the ocean?
Bottom line here is just that the Park Service needs to find a way to spend $200,000 on human safety and do it before Memorial Day. Period. Furthermore, they need to do it without holding up local governments for $30,000.
And surely even the Park Service officials can figure out that the longer this discussion goes on, the lamer they look.
To read recent news on the lifeguard controvery, go to: