The N.C. 12 Task Force, established earlier this year to address problems such as overwash caused by storms, nor’easters and hurricanes on the Outer Banks highway, is scheduled to hold its second meeting in July.
Dare County Manager Bobby Outten told Coastal Review on Wednesday that the 11-member task force first met May 19, when concerns about N.C. 12 were reviewed and “We’ll start the actual work at our next meeting and will go as long as it takes us,” to come up with short-term and long-term plans.
The public can attend the task force meetings in the Dare County Administration Building in Manteo. The next two meetings will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 21, and 11 a.m. Aug. 18.
Overwash and road washout have led to closures on multiple occasions and sometimes for extended periods of time, that “create severe disruptions to the life, health, safety, and welfare of the residents of and visitors to Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island. Unless addressed properly, these repeated closures will continue to have significant negative impacts on the Outer Banks community,” according to the county.
Dare County officials organized the N.C. 12 Task Force after discussions began late last year with Hyde County, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state Department of Transportation. The task force was announced during the April 19 county commissioners meeting.
Outten said the group of stakeholders were brought together to not only look at the solutions to address N.C. 12 issues but also challenges with each of the possible solutions and “try to come to some consensus about what a long-term solution might look like, what it might cost and then try to come up with some priority as to how we go about prioritizing those various areas.”
The N.C. 12 Task Force is made up of Bob Woodard, Dare County Board of Commissioners chairman and chairperson of the task force; Bobby Outten, Dare County manager; David Hallac, National Parks of Eastern North Carolina superintendent; Randal Mathews, Hyde County commissioner; Kris Cahoon Noble, Hyde County manager; Rebekah Martin, project leader for the North Carolina Coastal Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex; Allen Moran, NCDOT Division 1 representative; and with state Department of Transportation, Sterling Baker, Gretchen Byrum Paul Williams and Win Bridgers.
The task force is to create a plan for reliable transportation incorporating information on climate change and sea level rise, recognizing the missions of the refuge, seashore, and other public lands and balancing the ecology and the restoration of barrier island processes while maintaining public access. It’s supposed to be collaborative and include opportunities for input and use existing NCDOT transportation feasibility studies and other information along with economic considerations and funding.
During the first meeting May 19 in Manteo, the task force established a subcommittee, which will meet at 11 a.m. July 13 and then will visit each of the seven erosion and overwash “hot spots” on the highway. The next meetings will be 11 a.m. Aug. 11 and again 11 a.m. Sept. 8.
Outten, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said that members are the stakeholders from different groups and agencies that will be involved with a project to solve any of the problems plaguing N.C. 12 and will help establish a game plan to tackle these issues.
“Our thought was, let’s get everybody to the table now, find out what the challenges are, whether they’re financial challenges or engineering challenges or environmental challenges. What are the challenges associated with all of these things, so that we can start looking at ways to address them,” he said. “We don’t want to be in the middle of a crisis when the road is out and now you have all these challenges you have thought about.”
The goal is to reach a consensus on how to solve some of the challenges “so that whenever we get the funding or when the time comes to do something, we’re not arguing about how to do what we’ve already done,” he said.
In addition to Outten, subcommittee members Ocracoke Island Representative Bob Chestnut; Hatteras Island Representative Danny Couch, who is also on the Dare County Board of Commissioners; Susan Flythe with the Cape Hatteras Electric Coop.; Tideland Electric Membership Corp.’s Paul Spruill; Kym Hunter, Esq. with Southern Environmental Law Center; Braxton Davis, North Carolina Division of Coastal Management director; Cameron Ingram, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; Pete Benjamin, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service; D. Reide Corbett, Coaastal Studies Institute director: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives; Daniel Smith, N.C. Division of Water Resources; Kathy Rawls, director of N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries; Pace Wilber, NOAA National Marine Fisheries; Harold Thomas, NCDOT Ferry Division director.
Each member is also a de facto member of the subcommittee list.
The whole goal, he said, is to preserve access for all the public services from EMS to garbage collection.
“We want to preserve access for the people that live there, so they can go to church, go to the grocery store and go to their doctor’s appointment. We want to preserve access for the economy and all the people in the businesses that make their living there and we’ve got to preserve access to the park, so that people can continue to visit one of the best national parks in the country,” Outten said.
“If we don’t have Highway 12, we don’t have access. How do we maintain that in the short run, and in the long term? People that have an interest in that ought to be the table to figure that out,” he said about the subcommittee.