By CONNIE LEINBACH
The Ocracoke Observer
Vendors to Ocracoke have been purchasing passes to get into the priority loading lane for Ocracoke docks since Jan. 1, but they’re not all that happy about the $150 price tag per pass.
They are able to purchase as many passes as they want, but there was some initial confusion about it earlier this month since the application on the N.C. Ferry System website had said vendors were limited to two passes.
The priority lane at the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry terminals was established to expedite islanders’ and vendors’ access to and from the island. Only island residents and vendors may use this lane.
Tim Hass, spokesman for the Ferry Division, said Wednesday that online vendor application is in the process of being changed to show that they may purchase unlimited passes.
“They can go into the Hatteras Ferry terminal and get as many passes as they need,” he said.
But this change occurred after Chris Bock, Hatteras ferry terminal operations manager, and Hyde County Manager Bill Rich went to bat for the vendors, said Nathan Spencer, owner of Coastal Gas in Powell’s Point.
He said he has to purchase at least five passes for his propane trucks to deliver to Ocracoke businesses and residences.
Some of the other vendors will have to purchase even more passes, said Tommy Hutcherson, manager of the Ocracoke Variety Store, who deals with about 75 vendors each year.
Such as Budweiser.
“They send two bulk trucks here on Wednesdays for us and the gas station,” he said. “Then they have a salesman who comes on a Tuesday, then the draft truck and sometimes supervisors have to come. So, they must have passes.”
Then there are the numerous smaller vendors who deliver to the island who will have this added expense.
While this is good news that the vendors can purchase multiple passes, they still aren’t happy about it, Hutcherson said.
Vendors must be verified as a provider of regular commercial services to Ocracoke Island, and they will be monitored to make sure they are actually making deliveries and not just jumping in the priority lane for a fishing trip, Hass said.
“We don’t want people abusing it,” he said. “Even Ocracoke residents have said there are too many priority passes out there and the priority lane is too busy.”
To ensure this, the vendor pass holder must also make at least 24 trips to Ocracoke annually, Hass said.
The N.C. General Assembly approved this new fee in June along with an annual appropriation for ferry replacement and a one-time appropriation for infrastructure and maintenance as well as money to activate a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke.
The enacting of this priority pass fee was a compromise between legislators who have been pushing for both a toll on the Hatteras Ferry and for Ocracoke residents to pay for their residential priority passes.
And vendors will be passing on the cost of these passes to the island.
“They’ve created a toll for us that will burden the businesses and residents of Ocracoke,” Spencer said. “I don’t see how it’s fair.”
In addition to monitoring the vendors’ usage of the priority passes, workers at the ferry docks are logging residents’ use of the passes.
“It’s just record keeping,” Hass said.
According to a press release from the Ferry Division, applications can be found on the Ferry Division’s website or picked up at the Hatteras Ferry Terminal. Completed vendor applications will take a minimum of one week for processing.
Upon approval, the fees can be paid by cashier’s check or money order and the pass will be issued at the terminal. Passes may be purchased between December and January and will expire end of applicable year.
The new legislation does not affect the Ocracoke resident priority passes, which are issued free to Ocracoke residents every three years.
(Reprinted with permission from The Ocracoke Observer. For continuing coverage of the Ferry Division situation and other news and features about Ocracoke, go to www.ocracokeobserver.com.)