With little fanfare, the Hyde County commissioners on Monday night, Jan. 4, voted unanimously to approve a fireworks display July 3 on Ocracoke.
Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, said the Occupancy Tax Board on Dec. 22 approved the $20,000 expenditure for an 18-minute display. Money for the show will come out of occupancy tax funds. The county will be the contracting organization and insurance certificate holder.
Rich said the county received 25 letters on the subject, with two of those against it.
“As a business owner, it’s fantastic,” said Jason Wells, owner of Jason’s Restaurant, after the Occupancy Tax Board meeting. “Over the last several years, business has dropped over July 3 to 5. As a parent, my son has never seen fireworks. So I’m excited for the kids to see fireworks.”
This year’s event will be the first time a fireworks show has happened on the island since an accident July 4, 2009, in which four fireworks company employees were killed when an explosion occurred while they were unloading the truck in the early morning.
Sentiments in recent discussions in the last few years about reviving fireworks have almost split down the middle with some islanders for bringing them back and others still wary about the safety as well as the fiscal responsibility of spending a large sum for something that doesn’t directly benefit the community.
In other business, the commissioners agreed to further investigate modifying the current Ocracoke noise ordinance.
While Will Doerfer, special assistant county manager, submitted a report about his recent decibel meter readings in the village, the report findings were not discussed. Doerfer’s report can be viewed here.
The ordinance was enacted a few years ago to control the level and duration of outside music and noise. According to the ordinance, amplified music can be played only to 70 decibels and only until 10 p.m.
From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. the ordinance only says that “noise” must be indoors and/or contained on one’s property. To read the ordinance, click here then scroll down to page 8.
Hyde’s proposed changes include setting a decibel level maximum after 10 p.m. of 43, which Doerfer’s research showed is “a quiet office environment.”
In the first public comment period, islander Jim Borland, said he reviewed the proposed ordinance changes and suggested that noise from “aquaculture” jobs be included in the exceptions. He also suggested that the commissioners consider different sound levels in different areas of the island, which is what the town of Oriental does.
Some of the island’s natural sounds are higher than 43 decibels.
“A cricket is pretty close to 40,” he said. “Sound carries more around water than on the mainland. We need to research this more before we jump into anything.”
Sean Death, who owns the Ocracoke Bar & Grille, asked to be put on the agenda, and Earl Pugh Jr., board chairman, said he would when the board votes on the ordinance.
Ashley Harrell, who owns Gaffer’s Sports Pub with her husband Red, said uncertainty about the noise ordinance is holding up her plans to book nighttime bands.
“If this 43 decibels happens, I’ll be out of business,” she said.
Commissioner John Fletcher said there’s never going to be agreement on the ordinance, and to set it and be done with it.
Tourists come here to have a good time, he said.
“This idea of closing the island down at 10 p.m. might go over at Cross Creek (a nursing home on the mainland), but not with the business people here,” he said. “If it’s too quiet it will be a death knell to businesses.
“Stop pussy-footing around, and say what it’s gonna be and let’s act like grown folk,” he continued. “For summertime, this beach needs to rock.”
As for the large mallard duck population on the island, Doerfer said he is still gathering community support about humanely removing them, which involves getting permits from several government agencies.
There’s a man (who wasn’t named) on the mainland open to sheltering them, but when Fletcher asked about who is paying for feeding them, Doerfer didn’t have an answer but said he still looking into all the costs.
An unofficial estimate is that there are about 300 ducks in and around the heart of the village near Community Square. In addition to their droppings possibly creating health hazards, some fear that in spring, when courtship resumes, this number will triple.
The commissioners also appointed three islanders to three vacant seats on the Ocracoke Development Ordinance Board of Adjustment. They are Jake Johnson, Bill Monticone and Daphne Bennink.
(Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to answer a poll on noise on Ocracoke. For more news and features about Ocracoke, go to www.ocracokeobserver.com.)