By JOY CRIST
The Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) heard from the public on a wide range of issues at a well-attended community meeting on Tuesday evening.
The casual forum enabled folks to step up to the microphone to bring issues or questions to the commissioners’ attention, and topics ranged from beach nourishment in Buxton and along Ocean View Drive in Avon, to a potential indoor swimming pool for Hatteras Island.
The following topics were discussed by community members and the BOC during the Fessenden Center meeting.
Beach nourishment was one of the big topics of the night, with several people commenting on the need for nourishment in Avon, possible alternatives to nourishment, and other related issues. An Avon homeowner and transportation project manager for more than 30 years urged the BOC to think about nourishment along Ocean View Drive in Avon as an investment versus an expense, and asked about initiating a study to see if the project was viable.
“This board is all about beach nourishment,” said Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard, noting that the county had spent roughly $100 million dollars in nourishment projects over the past 10 years.
County Manager Bobby Outten also noted that Avon nourishment had been discussed in detail, but that currently, county funds designated for nourishment were already tied to existing projects.
“In Avon, that’s about a $20 million dollar project, and knowing that we don’t have the funds now for the project – and not knowing when the funds would be available – any study we did would be outdated by the time we are ready,” he said.
The board also said that they were appealing to state legislatures about a recently formed state Beach Nourishment Fund. As of now, the state fund has been created, however it has not been determined how it will be funded.
“It’s the first time in quite a few years that they’ve even had beach nourishment in the state budget,” said Commissioner Steve House, “and we’re fighting hard [for funds] – we do take it to heart.”
Community members also wondered about the success of the Buxton beach nourishment project after the series of March storms. Commissioner Danny Couch reported that the contractor for the project, Coastal Science & Engineering, was currently at the Buxton site examining the impact of the wave of bad weather, and that the data on how the beach held up was forthcoming.
Chairman Woodard also noted that once a site is an engineered beach, or replenished with beach nourishment, it was also eligible for FEMA funds, in case all the sand washed away.
“Once you have an engineered beach, it’s not a guarantee, but we have the potential to cover that with FEMA [funds], and get a portion of that money back,” he said.
Several community members commented on the need for leash laws on Hatteras Island, noting that most of the towns in Dare County had some sort of ordinance in place. A number of residents noted that unleashed and roaming dogs caused damage to pets, kids, and yards, and that there was currently no recourse.
“A leash law poses no threat, but a lack of a leash law poses many,” said a Buxton resident who proposed initiating a fine for free roaming dogs. “In Fayetteville, you are charged $1,000 for your third offense.”
The speaker also cited examples of dogs killing pets, farm animals, and hanging around the drop off area at the Cape Hatteras Elementary School. “All of these things have happened, and nothing has been done about it.”
Ashley Jackson of Dare County Social Services brought up the need for better transportation for the growing elderly population on Hatteras Island, noting that residents currently needed to call 48 hours in advance for trips up the beach, and that transportation to local destinations like grocery stores and doctors’ offices was lacking.
“We need to figure out a way to get these folks around locally,” she said. “We do a good job of taking care of each other here, but we need help.”
Community Swimming Pool
Anita Bills of Frisco commented on the need for a public pool on Hatteras Island, and outlined the extensive research that a small team of community members have done on the project. She listed several 4-5 acre properties that would work well as a site for an indoor pool, and explained how having a pool would help the elderly in need of low impact exercise, keep local kids engaged, and could even help build a school swim team.
Her specific examples of potential sites, and list of ways that a pool could benefit the community, were appreciated by the board who said they would assist with the project.
“We’re listening and we’ll do what we can,” said Commissioner Couch. “You’re on your way – get us some more facts and figures, and we’ll do whatever we can.”
The BOC was thanked by Cap. Ernie Foster for their work on Hatteras Inlet, and Commissioner Vice Chairman Wally Overman provided an update on the ongoing dredging, noting that the dredge arrived today to start work on the Connecting Channel.
“The last storm actually helped the Connecting Channel,” he said, “and they think they can complete the dredging in less time now.”
It was also noted by Commissioner Jim Tobin that once the dredge Merritt was back in service, the dredge Currituck would be out of commission for a while for maintenance. “When the Merritt comes back, the Currituck is going out of service,” he said. “Every inlet [in North Carolina] is struggling over it – it’s not good news, but it’s a fact.”
Sharon Peele Kennedy asked the board to continue their fight on behalf of the commercial fishing industry, noting that it was essential to protect the cultural and historical heritage of local working watermen. Commissioner House responded that the board was working with legislators to get a “state proclamation together saluting local fishermen, which will help us later on” when it comes to potential future restrictions.
Commissioner Tobin also noted that vigilance was key with changing restrictions, stating that “we need to scope this situation on a daily basis.”
Drugs on Hatteras Island
Residents also commented on the drug issue on Hatteras Island, and urged board members to help stop any “licensed drug dealers” who doled out and sold addictive prescriptions.
Commissioner Overman noted that the issue of drugs in Dare County was “something we have been working on for a while,” and confirmed that PORT Health Services would be coming to set up shop in the Hatteras Medical Center sometime in the summer. He also noted that the recently passed STOP act, a new state law aimed at curbing the misuse and abuse of opioids, would help limit the number of opioids prescribed.
“You’ve got to be happy with baby steps,” he said, “because there are no giant steps… Everybody is working as hard as we can to deal with a problem that we’re behind the eight ball on.”
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners thanked the commenters, noting that it was enlightening and helpful to have the public speak out on a range of issues.
“Making a community better involves everyone,” said Commissioner House.
“Please [continue to] take part, and be active, and to contact us,” said Commissioner Tobin.
Steve “Creature” Coulter, who had the last public comment of the evening, echoed this sentiment and advised the community members to continue to work with the BOC. “I’m here to tell you that if you help these commissioners, and get involved, you can get things done.”