Roughly 45 islanders attended an encore presentation of the Dare County Board of Commissioner Chairman’s “State of the County 2020,” which highlighted the Board’s accomplishments in 2019, and touched on upcoming projects in the year ahead.
2020 marks the 150th anniversary of Dare County, and Chairman Bob Woodard attended the event in period 1870s attire to mark the occasion. The event was a repeat of the original January 15 presentation in Kill Devil Hills, and Woodard explained to the crowd that the encore was an effort by the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to keep Hatteras Island in the loop of Dare County initiatives.
“Hatteras Island is critical to Dare County,” said Woodard. “We want to have more dialogue with Hatteras Island, and our board is committed to you.”
A number of community leaders and officials were in attendance at the Tuesday evening presentation, including County Commissioners Danny Couch, Vice Chairman Wally Overman, Steve House, and Ervin Bateman, as well as N.C. House Representative for District 6, Bobby Otho Hanig. Woodard also took a moment to thank National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent David Hallac, who was also at the Buxton event. “I can’t say enough about Superintendent Hallac. I’ve been here 30 years, and we’ve never had the relationship we’ve had with our current superintendent,” said Woodard.
Woodard then dived into the meat and potatoes of the evening’s presentation, and a number of issues and initiatives that were tackled by the BOC in the past year affected islanders in attendance.
Topics that were featured during the evening, and which are of relevance to Hatteras Island, included the following:
Buxton Beach Nourishment
In one of the biggest pieces of news to affect islanders, Woodard noted that a maintenance dredging project for the original Buxton Beach Nourishment project, (which wrapped up in 2018), was currently scheduled for 2021 / 2022.
The project will cost an estimated $19.7 million for the renourishment, as well as a coinciding effort to restore 1-3 existing groins, and because of the site’s new status as an engineered beach, the project could receive funds from FEMA due to sand loss from Hurricane Florence.
“Now that we have an engineered beach, we can get money from FEMA to rebuild the beaches that we lost – That’s huge,” said Woodard.
The original Buxton Beach Nourishment project took place in 2017-2018, and deposited 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from an offshore site on a 2.9-mile-long stretch of northern Buxton beach.
A study to examine the feasibility of conducting a similar project in northern Avon along Ocean View Drive continues to be in the works, and will likely be orchestrated in the coming weeks.
Waterways and Dredge Update
Woodard focused on the important of keeping Hatteras and Oregon inlets clear, noting that they were “another highway [in the county] for our folks to go to work.”
The county is in the process of ordering a $15 million dredge to perform regular maintenance dredging, and Woodard stated that the Oregon Inlet Task Force was finalizing the design, which will be similar to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s vessel, the Murden. The dredge will have 500 cubic yards of capacity, and once the final design is complete and the contract is issued, Woodard estimated that the dredge could be in the water in roughly 18 months.
“This is for Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlets… our fishermen have to get to work,” said Woodard.
Supporting Working Watermen
The county also made a number of efforts to assist working watermen, especially during a year that saw an influx of major regulations and restrictions.
Woodard noted that in 2019 the BOC approved reorganizing the Commission for Working Watermen, under the direction of County Commissioner and Working Waterman Chairman Steve House, and that the Board had approved eight resolutions opposing harmful regulations and legislation.
The BOC also hosted the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Director at a meeting on Hatteras Island in August, and hosted a Marine Fisheries scoping meeting on the Southern Flounder Amendment 3 in Manteo in December.
The Dual Enrollment program at the College of the Albemarle (COA), which allows high school students to take classes towards an Associate’s Degree, was also heavily featured during the presentation, with Woodard thanking Commissioner Danny Couch for his efforts to launch the program.
In 2018/2019, students in Dare County completed 684 courses through the program, saving $173,938 in tuition and fees. Dual enrollment was also up 56% from the previous year, with three Dare County students – including one from Cape Hatteras Secondary School – graduating in 2019 with both a high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree.
Woodard also touched on the $250,000 Dare County Scholarship Guarantee, which prioritizes students enrolled full-time at COA Dare County Campus in Curriculum or Workforce Development Programs, as well as the new $14 million dollar COA complex, which will boast 36,500 square feet of flex space to easily and affordably accommodate curriculum changes.
“Our Board saw the importance of investing in our kids,” said Woodard. “There’s no reason why any kid in Dare County has to pay a penny to [work towards] an Associate’s Degree.”
“We cannot get by this evening without talking about Dorian,” said Woodard. “It was a big part of our year, and storms are a [continual] part of where we live.”
Woodard noted that during the Hurricane Dorian response, Dare County Social Services and local relief organizations assisted or completed projects for nearly 500 families, ranging from simple yard cleanup work to complete home remediation.
The Outer Banks Community Foundation also received $285,000 in donations for victims in Dare County, which goes to families both on Hatteras Island and north of Oregon Inlet.
A number of initiatives towards creating more affordable – or essential –housing in Dare County were also outlined, which included the approved-in-2019 site plans and conditional use permits (CUP) for two upcoming Cluster Home Developments in Avon and Rodanthe.
Woodard also stated that the Board expanded Cluster Home Developments zoning districts, hosted an essential housing workshop in September, and approved an agreement with the UNC School of Government to work with Dare County on affordable housing initiatives.
Accessible and Affordable Healthcare
Another major topic at the presentation was the county’s efforts to provide accessible and affordable healthcare. Woodard noted that in 2019, the county approved the operation of the Dare County Recovery Court, opened new facilities which included a Tele-psychiatry program for children and families in Dare County, and helped expand the Saving Lives Response Team countywide, which responds to overdose victims and their families by providing connections to available resources and programs to overcome substance abuse.
Woodard also garnered a round of applause after stating that the Board was committed to opposing offshore drilling along the Outer Banks coastline. “Not on our shores,” he said.
In 2019, the BOC passed six separate resolutions opposing offshore drilling, and Woodard stated that they would continue the fight in the months and years to come.
Looking Ahead to 2020
The presentation wrapped up with a look at some of the hot topics that were on the horizon in the year ahead.
Prominently featured was the introduction of the new county-wide flood maps, which will be adopted in June of 2020. Many properties have been reclassified on the new flood maps, and in many instances, at a lower risk flood zone, which could present future issues for homeowners.
“The new flood maps did not take into effect [the data] from Hermine or Matthew,” said Woodard. “Those number are not in there, and those zones are changing, and not to your betterment.”
The Dare County Planning Board will hold two informational meetings about the updated flood maps that will become effective June 19. The first meeting will be held on Monday, February 10, at 5:00 p.m. at the Dare County Board of Commissioners Meeting Room located at 954 Marshall Collins Drive in Manteo. The second meeting will be held on Thursday, February 13, at the Fessenden Center located at 46830 NC 12 Highway in Buxton.
Woodard finished his presentation by urging attendees to reach out to the commissioners by phone call or email whenever they had questions or needed assistance with county issues.
“We’re available 24/7, and [we] want you to feel connected,” he said. “We have two Board meetings a month, and I think it’s time we came to [Hatteras Island] on a quarterly basis, at least.”
Including Hatteras Island in county affairs was a recurrent theme throughout the presentation, with Woodard opening and closing the event by stating the importance of the island to Dare County.
“Hatteras Island is critical to our county,” he said. “And we want to continue our dialogue and stay connected.”