They came, they saw, they listened.
That’s the story in a nutshell about Monday’s visit to the Outer Banks by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and recently-appointed Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata.
McCrory and Tata toured Highway 12 to get a first-hand look at the continuing overwash that has frequently forced closure of the road since Hurricane Sandy blew through in late October. Following the hurricane, traffic was re-routed via ferry from Rodanthe on north Hatteras Island to the mainland for several weeks while the road near Mirlo was rebuilt and lined with sandbags to protect it.
Since that time, other storms bringing overwash have frequently caused traffic to be halted for hours or even days at a time while sand is removed and/or the road is repaired.
During opening comments, Tata lightened the mood by explaining how the governor became part of the entourage.
The original plan for the Highway 12 tour and the town hall meeting included only Tata, who mentioned his trip during a cabinet meeting with the governor on Monday morning. Tata said that McCrory responded, “That is an issue – do you mind if I come?”
“I said, hey, it’s your plane!” Tata reported.
McCrory said that there is no way to envision the scope of the problem without visiting the area.
“Until you see it, you can’t believe it,” he said. “And we saw it before high tide.”
Whatever solutions are chosen, it will not be a state-only endeavor, said McCrory. Instead, it has to be a partnership between the state, federal and county governments.
He noted that identifying the long-term solution is going to be tough. “We need short-term solutions and also long-term solutions that will stand more than two years – should be decades.”
When the meeting opened up for comments, several Hatteras Island residents expressed their frustrations, concerns, and opinions about possible solutions. They also wondered aloud if they would be able to go home via Highway 12 following the meeting.
Dave Dawson of the Hatteras Island Business Association said that there has been no beach since Hurricane Sandy. And, now, he said, the overwash isn’t just from storms but also tides.
Concerns about the declining economy because of visitors’ fears of not being able to access the island were echoed throughout the hour-long meeting. And the need for prompt beach nourishment also was a frequent topic.
Moving tourists on and off the island isn’t the only concern of local residents.
“There is the critical issue of access to medical care,” said Cliff Parker, a retired physician who has been a charter boat captain for 15 years. “It is going to take bold leadership [to find solutions] but when you have shortness of breath or chest pains, you don’t want to be on Hatteras Island.”
The governor made no bones about his priorities. “Public safety is the number one consideration and then economic impact,” he said. “No interest group is going to block us.”
Hatteras Island resident John Head offered support. “We are pretty much in favor of helping you help us. We are open to tolls and are willing to step up to the plate. The Realtors are having to make deep discounts to get people here. We need near-shore reefs in place to protect us…”
Closing the meeting, McCrory told the crowd that the state can’t do anything about storms or tides and doesn’t want to give false expectations. “We will be very direct, very pragmatic and we will take action…we are not deferring, not accusing,” just looking for the best course of action.
Click here to view videos of Governor Pat McCrory and NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata touring NC 12 at the S-Curves and talking with citizens at the town hall meeting.