A bill that would overturn the National Park Service’s off-road vehicle management plan at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the subject of “spirited” conversations among U.S. senators today.
But most of the discussion was before a scheduled meeting of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee at which the bill was to be considered for a markup.
When the meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m., finally got started at about 10:50, chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced that S 486 and two others bills were being removed from the list of 30 that the committee was scheduled to consider.
“Almost overnight the bill has become a bit more controversial,” Wyden said.
The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., along with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., on March 7 is called the Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act. It would reinstate the Interim Management Strategy governing off-road vehicle use on the seashore and set aside current mandates, such as the consent decree, and requirements that prevent off-road vehicle and citizen access to a significant portion of the seashore.
If the bill is enacted, the National Park Service’s Interim Management Strategy will go into effect immediately and end upon the National Park Service establishing a long-term off-road vehicle management plan for the seashore.
The discussion apparently heated up last night when Wyden said he received a letter from the Park Service director restating that the Department of Interior “strongly opposes” the legislation.
And the discussion continued until the committee convened 50 minutes later than planned.
“This issue has engendered strong feelings on both sides,” Wyden noted.
After reading the Park Service director’s letter to him, the chairman noted that ORV users and local merchants feel the plan is too restrictive.
Although he said the bill would be removed from today’s markup session in which members decide which bills will go to the full Senate for a vote, Wyden promised that a vote on the bill would come in the committee’s markup meeting in June.
Meanwhile, he said committee members would attempt to craft some kind of compromise.
“We are going to begin immediately to put forward a bi-partisan and good faith effort to find a solution to this matter at Cape Hatteras,” he said.
He also commented that the committee has a long history of working out resource conflicts.
Ranking committee member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reiterated that the committee was going to pursue an agreement on a solution from both sides.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told the chairman that she was proud to be part of a committee whose leaders were so dedicated to compromising and reaching agreement.
“This may not be the biggest issue,” Landrieu said, “but it’s a very important issue to the state.”
And she noted it raises issues of the use of public lands and how the natural world and human beings can co-exist.
Next, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has become a leading and very articulate advocate for those who feel the ORV plan is too restrictive, stepped up once again.
“I support this bill in its entirety,” he said, “and I will continue to support this bill.”
He said, as he has said before, that the Park Service is “overreaching” with the plan.
“This not just a North Carolina issue,” he said. “This is about a lot of the East Coast.”
He repeated that S 486 was very important to his constituents, many of whom vacation on Hatteras or Ocracoke.
What Manchin did not mention was that he himself is a regular visitor to Ocracoke Island and was on the island earlier this month for the Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournment as a guest of Ann Warner, owner of Howard’s Pub.
The senator’s connection to the island dates back to his friendship with Ann’s late husband, Buffy, who was a colleague of Manchin’s in the West Virginia state Senate.
Later in the hearing Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, weighed in with his opposition to the bill.
He referred to the consent decree that settled a lawsuit against the Park Service by environmental groups and called it an “agreement between user groups and the National Park Service.”
Manchin responded that there are agreements reached in good faith and those in which someone “holds a gun to your head and says you better sign this.”
A companion bill to S486 was favorably voted out of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee yesterday. It is headed to the House floor for a vote.
Last year, the House passed an identical bill. However, last year’s bill in the Senate never made it to the floor. It died when the committee took no action.
There is no date on the Senate committee’s calendar yet for the June markup session.
The committee has 12 members who are Democrats and 10 who are Republican.
Members and their contact information can be found at the Senate committee’s website, http://www.energy.senate.gov/.