The Dare County Board of Commissioners tackled a number of issues and heard a wide range of updates and presentations during an hours-long meeting on March 6, 2017.
Roughly 20 items were on the packed meeting agenda, which included an updated report on the preliminary flood maps, an update from the National Park Service, and a proposal from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce for a new economic development initiative.
The meeting began, however, with a tribute to Island Free Press editor and co-founder, Irene Nolan. Dare County Commissioner Bob Woodard outlined her life and significance to the Outer Banks in his opening remarks. ”The Island Free Press was started in 2007… At the end of 2016, there were more than 1.5 million visits to that website,” said Woodard.
Woodard also recalled the interview he did with Irene Nolan for her “To The Point” radio show a little over a year ago.
“Irene could not have been more gracious – [she was an] unbelievable woman,” he said. “She had a way that if she disagreed with you, it was as polite as could be. There was no name calling, no shaking the figure – she was a true journalist and she treated everyone with total respect. I am so sad to hear of her passing… she will be sorely missed.”
His remarks was followed with a moment of silence in honor of Irene.
Additional Hatteras Island centric-issues and matters discussed at the board are as follows.
A proposal by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce to authorize the organization to implement the initial stages of the Economic Development Plan was considered as Item 6 on the agenda.
The Economic Development Plan, performed by NCSU, was commissioned by the board to find ways to boost the local economy. “As you all know, in our economic development plan, they gave us a path forward and there were several options,” said County Manager Bobby Outten. “One was to hire someone to come in and be our economic development coordinator, one was to hire an outside group or outside agency. Today, the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce has proposed that they come in and be that outside agency to [in order to] begin the implementation of that economic development plan. “
Chamber of Commerce President Karen Brown and Committee Chair Bob Peele addressed the board and outlined how the chamber could possibly fill in a gap, temporarily, in trying to help implement an economic development project. “We’re interested in keeping the momentum going that you have created in trying to get something in the works,” said Peele. “The chamber is willing to do this for a while and then reevaluate the next steps – just to keep the ball rolling.”
Funding was requested in addition to the proposal, which included an initial $25,000 for the first phase, as well as “add-on” funds in the amounts of $22,000 and $20,000 respectively for future endeavors.
These initiatives included the cataloging of existing lots and buildings for potential business owners who want to move to the area, adding webpages to the Chamber of Commerce website that outlines demographics and what’s available in terms of space for businesses, and a program called “OBXMADE” which is a creative economy / branding initiative for the county for items that are made locally.
“These complement existing initiatives and programs including a business expansion plan that has been in place for four years,” said Brown.
“I believe it’s important for our county to not only maintain and optimize the present drivers of our county, but to seek to develop appropriate new sources of employment,” said Commissioner Shae. “If we’re successful in these efforts, the residents in our county will have a much brighter future. I’m certainly in favor of doing this, but what we need to have is some sort of agreement between us -our board and you – so we understand what each party is committed to do.”
As a result, the board approved the primary proposal in the amount of $25,000 and moved to establish an MOA between the county and the Chamber of Commerce. The MOA will outline the details of the work, which includes a timetable for implementation as well as specific metrics for measuring success. The partnership will be revisited after the MOA / first phase, and additional add-on funds may be granted at that point, depending on the success of the endeavor.
Update from National Park Service (NPS)
In Item 7 of the agenda, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac provided an update on NPS activity in the past two years. 2016 had the highest level of visitation at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 13 years, with more than 2.6 million visits to Hatteras Island. 2016 also had the most ORV permits sold since the permit program was implemented in 2012, with more than 36,000 permits sold.
Hallac also outlined recent NPS programs and activities, including the recent availability of online permit sales, the upcoming Beach Nourishment project in Buxton, the new corridors that were established in 2016 (in conjunction with reduced wildlife buffers), and the addition of four new ramps and the four-mile long inside road from Buxton to Frisco. Overall, the wildlife buffer modifications led to an average of 25.6 miles of beaches open to ORV vehicles from May through September in 2016, as opposed to 17.7 miles open in 2013 and 19.8 miles open in 2014.
“We’re very excited to have wrapped us this work and provide additional access to our visitors and to the community,” said Hallac. “This affords us the opportunity to work on many other important projects in the Outer Banks group.”
Hallac listed several of these upcoming projects, which includes the upcoming 2018 renovation to the Wright Brothers Visitors Center, the present implementation of a new handicapped accessible concrete ramp at Coquina Beach, and new ramps that are on the horizon for Hatteras Island. “Starting in the next few weeks, we will have a new ramp at the Frisco Day Use area that will be handicapped accessible to help serve our visitors down there,” he said, “and a little later this summer, we will be beginning on a handicapped accessible ramp 25 on Hatteras Island.”
Hallac also thanked the board and late chairman Warren Judge, Pat Weston and the Outer Banks Preservation Association, and the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association – as well as other local organizations – for helping him with the “learning curve” and for providing constructive input.
Woodard thanked Hallac for his efforts, and pointed out that the new ramps and improvements were funded from money collected from ORV permits. “It’s critical for our citizens to know that.” The other board members also thanked Hallac one by one for providing access and for working with the board, while expressing their hopes that he would stay in the position for a long time. “He bought a house here, so that’s a good sign,” said Commissioner Couch.
Hospitality Certification Program
In Item 8 of the agenda, COA presented an overview of the brand new program started this past fall – the hospitality and tourism program. The new program which was created to benefit businesses and employees specifically in Dare County had a total of 12 students this past fall, and 31-32 students are currently enrolled for 2017. More information on the program can be found at http://www.albemarle.edu/programs-classes/noncredit/courses/hospitality-tourism-certifications/
Staff presentation on Preliminary Flood Maps
Dare County Planning Manager Donna Creef made a presentation on the preliminary flood maps as a follow-up on items the board requested after her initial January 2017 presentation. These action items included:
Spencer Rogers had appeared at the Feb. 6 BOC meeting and voiced his concerns about map changes, specifically the shaded X and X zones along the oceanfront, and the potential loss of grandfathering policies. At the meeting, he encouraged a local adoption of flood maps as minimum standards for NFIP participation and for insurance rating purposes, and to consider local standards for regulatory purposes.
Several meetings were also held over the past several months with stakeholders to consider a framework of alternatives. Possible map actions included a coordinated CRS approach with towns, appeal of the preliminary maps, the adoption of preliminary maps for insurance and regulatory purposes, and using the 2006 maps for regulatory purposes. Another option was to identify a local flood elevation (LFE) for regulatory purposes in all zones, including shaded X and X zones.
Creef met with the PPI committee in January, and the committee was supportive of coordinated CRS outreach activities and stressed that education would be a key component of these outreach efforts. The consensus of PPI was to not appeal the maps, but they did favor the development of a LFE, which was the preferred option over adapting the 2006 maps. Creef also met with representatives from town planning departments on February 9, who had a similar response, as well with surveyors and engineers on February 16, who also recommended not appealing the new maps and who showed support for LFE.
Recent public meetings were held on the FEMA mitigation grants as well, which included a well-attended Buxton meeting with 40 attendees.
“Consensus with all the groups that I met with was that appeal is not the process to pursue,” said Creef. “Appeals are based on scientific and technical data, and can be a costly process.”
Adaptation of a LFE was the preferred option for all three meeting groups, (PPI committee, surveyors / engineers, and town representatives.) The FEMA maps would be used for insurance rating purposes, (so owners would enjoy potential benefits from lower rates), and the LFE would be an ordinance that would accompany the maps, and which would be used for regulation of new construction and raising of existing structures.
Creef also outlined the next steps, which included to continue to work with towns to develop a community-wide CRS campaign on flood insurance and targeted map risks, to move forward on the development of local flood elevations for consideration by the BOC, and the submission of the FEMA mitigation grant. A motion to move forward with all of the next steps was proposed, and was passed unanimously by the board.
Frisco Speed Limit
A letter written by a Frisco citizen requesting a reduction in the 45 mph speed limit was also briefly discussed by the board. “Being in touch with the community down there, there is going to be some resistance to that,” said Commissioner Couch, “because it is a seasonal 35 mph [speed limit] in Frisco.”
“I had some conversations with our sheriff, and they monitor that [speed limit] pretty regularly,” added Commissioner Woodard. “They’ve not had any abnormal abuse of that situation.” As a result of the input from the sheriff’s office and island community, no action was taken by the BOC on the request.
Connecting Channel in Hatteras Inlet
In regards to the Connecting Channel in Hatteras Inlet, Commissioner Overman reported that the final draft of MOA has been submitted and is awaiting a signature at this point. “We’re under the impression that it could be any hour,” said Overman. “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of waiting… and some efforts are already underway to extend the time for dredging should we run out of time in the normal allotted period that goes through the end of this month.”
Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses Funds
A motion was passed to send a letter to the Chairman of the NC Marine Fisheries Commission and the Director of the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to reconsider the 30% matching requirement for a grant towards the building of the Oregon Inlet Artificial Reef. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries approved a grant from funds collected from Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses (CRFL) in the amount of $371,000 for year one of the proposal, but required a matching contribution of $264,600, or 30% of the total project. The request was unprecedented, according to Oregon Inlet Artificial Reef Committee Chairman Richard (Dick) Parker, who also noted that Dare County provides the majority of revenue to the state from the sale of CRFLs
Hatteras Village Pathways
At the January 27 BOC retreat, the board passed a resolution supporting the expansion of the Hatteras Village Community Center district to install multi-use pathways as part of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. Commissioner Couch reported at the meeting that there were some legal issues involved with the initial resolution, so instead, they will put the issue up to the voters. As a result, a new resolution was proposed to support the drafting of a bill to send to the North Carolina House of Representatives establishing a referendum to be voted upon by the residents of the Hatteras Village Community Center District. The resolution was unanimously passed.
The Next Board of Commissioners Meeting is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., on Monday, April 3, 2017.