Yesterday, my good friend Cathy Burrus called me about making a comment on the National Park Service?s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on regulating ORVs on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Cathy attended the Park Service?s public comment meeting and she had a copy of the Coalition for Beach Access ?DEIS for Dummies.?
But with only five days before public comment ends, she was suddenly panicked about what exactly to say.
I gave her the advice that beach access groups are giving at their workshops on how to make public comments.
They are saying to stick to the facts and refrain from emotional outbursts. And they are advising that folks pick out a couple of issues that matter most to them and address their comments to those issues. This is an easier approach than trying to grapple with the hundreds of issues that are covered in the 810-page DEIS.
Cathy nailed it and wrote her comments ? and so can you.
She chose the size of buffers, access for those who are elderly or disabled, and the socio-economic impacts of the extensive closures.
It wasn?t so hard, she said.
Members of the Outer Banks Preservation Association and other access proponents are hearing the same things that I am.
People are saying that their comments don?t matter because the Park Service has already decided on the preferred Alternative F. Not true. Your comments won?t guarantee changes, but without them, there?s no hope of changing the outcome.
People are saying, ?You all are doing a great job.? OBPA and other groups are doing a great job of trying to get everyone to comment and helping them do it. But do not cop out and assume that because your neighbors are working so hard on preserving access that you don?t have to.
People are saying, ?It won?t affect me. This is an issue for fishermen who want to drive to the Point (or wherever).? The restrictions proposed in Alternative F will affect many more people than ?just fishermen.? There are restrictions that will affect pedestrians, windsurfers, surfers, kiteboarders, shell collectors, and every other group that uses the beach.
I love what Frank Folb Sr. has posted on his Frank and Fran?s tackle shop chat board (http://reelbuzz.com/fishreports/frankandfrans/).
?If you have not or do not take the time to make a comment to NPS on the DEIS, do not post on my Web site,? wrote Frank, who is known for his blunt assessment of the situation. ?If you have the energy to post here, then do your homework and make your comment to NPS. None of their six alternatives are any good. The only good alternative is the Access Coalition Position Statement.?
Frank even includes a sample letter:
Mr. Mike Murray, Supt. Cape Hatteras National Seashore 1401 National Park Drive Manteo, NC 27954
Please accept this letter as my comment on the ORV DEIS before you at this time.
After reviewing the NPS DEIS I must disagree with any of the six alternatives within the document.
I have however, reviewed the 77-page Coalition for Beach Access Position Statement signed by several groups that were a part of the negotiated rulemaking process, and it by far succeeds in furnishing the best visitor experience while maintaining the needs of protecting the fragile resources.
Please consider all aspects of this alternative and put people back into the management of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
John Q. Beachgoer
?Now was that hard to do?? Frank asks.
We all must submit our comments by midnight on Tuesday, May 11.
Here are the ground rules for submitting:
Written comments in hard copy (e.g. in a letter), can be sent by U.S. Postal Service or other mail delivery service or hand-delivered to: Mike Murray, Superintendent, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954. Written comments postmarked by May 11, 2010 will be accepted. Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any other way than those specified above. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.
At the end of this blog, you will find the coalition?s 77-page position statement, ?DEIS for Dummies,? Dare County?s position statement and comments, the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce comments, and comments by state Sen. Marc Basnight and Rep. Tim Spear, who represent the Outer Banks.
They might help you decide which issues you want to comment on and how you might do it.
ARE SPECIAL BIRDS REALLY SO SPECIAL?
An issue all through the discussion of access ? from negotiated rulemaking through the Park Service public comment meetings ? has been whether or not birds that are not federally protected should be afforded large buffers and pre-nesting and nesting closures.
The piping plover is the only bird on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The other birds that get special treatment are listed only as ?species of special concern? by the state of North Carolina.
Many people have written about this and commented on the issue at negotiated rulemaking. It also has been singled out in comments that access proponents have made during the NPS public meetings and in their comments.
State Sen. Marc Basnight and Rep. Tim Spear addressed this issue head on in their comments to the Park Service on the DEIS.
They asked why state-listed species of special concern are getting protected under the DEIS and Alternative F and why the Park Service will not recognize the entire ecosystem when counting these birds. Many of them are nesting in great numbers on dredge spoil islands just a stone?s throw from the seashore.
Here is an excerpt from the Basnight/Spear comment:
?Another confusing issue in the buffers listed in the DEIS is the equal and even more protective status given to species not on the endangered species list. Birds listed as North Carolina species of concern should not be given protected status under the Endangered Species Act. We have spoken with both the Chairman and Executive Director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission regarding this matter. Both have informed us that these unnecessary protections were never the intent of the Commission?s participation in this process, nor a requested outcome. They have also informed us that other species of concern are not given ESA status on other federal lands. Pre-nesting closures should be exclusively for the piping plover, the only federally listed threatened bird species. Also, non-ESA listed birds should not have buffers of 300 meters. The county feels a more appropriate buffer would be 30 meters. We also spoke with NCWRC regarding the inclusion of all birds in the ecosystem being counted when doing any type of management plan. Currently, birds on dredge spoil islands located adjacent to the Park are not being included in the population figures. They agree these islands have no predation and are ideal locations for nesting. To not include the populations of these islands is disingenuous to the intent of this process.?
Gordon Myers, executive director of the Wildlife Resources Commission, confirmed in a telephone interview that he is working on DEIS comment for that agency that will request that the state species of special concern not be given the same status as federally listed birds.
?These restrictions on the use of public land have never been our intent,? he said.
He added that what the Park Service has proposed in the DEIS is not what the agency is asking for.
He also said that the agency thinks that the entire ecosystem should be considered when assessing the health of bird populations.
He says that the Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Resources Commission, which all do bird counts, need to coordinate their efforts to give a composite picture of populations in the area ? not just focus on birds on the seashore.
The birds listed under the state?s species of special concern should be protected ? as they have been for decades on Hatteras Island. But there is no reason that a federal agency should grant them equal protection with federally listed birds under the ESA.
Trim back those buffers.
WHAT ABOUT PEA ISLAND?
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, separately from the Park Service management of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
But the refuge is located on Hatteras Island within the seashore.
So why, access advocates ask, are the refuge?s 12 miles of Hatteras Island beach not counted by the Park Service or environmental groups as part of the area that is closed to ORV access?
These are, and have been for years, 12 miles of the island set aside for pedestrian-only access.
One 12-mile long wildlife refuge is enough in the seashore.
PERMITS FOR BEACH FIRES AND IN THE VILLAGES ONLY?
Bonfires on the beach are a tradition for many islanders and visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Beach fires have been limited by the night driving restrictions under the consent decree ? you must be off the beach by 10 p.m. from May 1 ? Sept 15.
However, under Alternative F, campfires would be allowed during the turtle nesting season from May 1 ? Nov. 15 ONLY in front of the Hatteras Island villages, Coquina Beach, and the Ocracoke Day Use Area.
A non-fee education permit would be required year-round for a beach fire.
This restriction has the practical effect of limiting beach fires to only those who rent the first row of expensive oceanfront homes on Hatteras Island.
At Coquina Beach and at the Ocracoke Day Use Area, I guess you could carry all your firewood over the dunes and down to the beach.
But on Hatteras Island, if you could build fires only in the villages, the Park Service would be putting them off limits to all but oceanfront owners or renters. There are few, if any, areas for people to park and even carry their wood to the beach in the villages.
My grandchildren were disappointed when their campfires had to be doused by 10 p.m. But they accepted the restriction. Wait until they find out about the further restrictions ? and the restrictions from Sept. 16-Nov. 15 when night driving will probably be allowed with a permit.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click on the links below for more information to help you formulate your public comments:
Coalition for Beach Access ?DEIS for Dummies?
Coalition?s 77-page position paper on the DEIS
Dare County?s position paper and comments on the DEIS
Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce comments on the DEIS
Marc Basnight and Tim Spear comments on DEIS