Bill to overturn ORV plan faces uphill battle in the Senate
Last week was an interesting one for companion bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate that would overturn the National Park Service off-road vehicle plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The bills were scheduled for back-to-back markups in House and Senate committees on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Wednesday, H.R. 819, introduced by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., was reported out favorably by the House Natural Resources Committee. It is headed to the House floor for a vote and has a good chance of passing.
Legislation with the exact wording as H.R. 819 passed the House last year.
On Thursday, S 486, was yanked from consideration at the last minute by the chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
The bill apparently became more “controversial” overnight and discussions on late Wednesday continued into Thursday morning were apparently quite heated.
The committee meeting was almost an hour late starting while senators discussed the fate of the legislation.
After the meeting finally started Wyden made comments on the bill and promised the sponsors of the bi-partisan legislation, Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C. – that the bill would be considered for markup at the next committee meeting, now scheduled for June 20.
Several other senators also commented on the bill as the meeting moved on to consider other legislation on the calendar for markup.
The bill has an uphill battle in the Senate, controlled by Democrats who are looking more favorably on environmental groups opposing the legislation. More also would tend to support the Department of Interior, which strongly opposes the legislation.
There are 10 Republicans and 12 Democrats on the committee, so the bill’s supporters need two Democratic votes to get the bill marked up.
One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is an ardent supporter of S 486, so only one other Democratic vote is needed. And that’s certainly possible.
However, passing the bill in the full Senate is going to be problematic.
The Senate’s recent operating rules had made liberal use of the filibuster, which requires a supermajority of 60 senators to pass legislation. And then just about any senator can put a hold on a bill. Finally, there is a question of whether the Senate’s leader, Democrat Harry Reid, would even bother to put the bill on the calendar, especially if it’s opposed by the administration.
The Senate committee is also urging that members work together on a bi-partisan “compromise” before the June 20 meeting.
What exactly that compromise might be is an interesting question.
Compromising with environmental groups that sued the Park Service over its lack of an ORV plan left a bad taste in the mouths of advocates for more reasonable beach access.
A 2008 consent decree that settled that lawsuit was agreed to by the advocates, who were defendant-intervenors in the case.
They agreed to the consent decree with a gun to their heads. Judge Terrence Boyle had made it clear that he was prepared to shut down the beaches if there was no compromise.
Some think beach access advocates should have just let that happen, but it would have been a very risky strategy.
And, opponents of the bills to overturn the plan, constantly remind congress that the consent decree was signed onto by all.
In 2009, an attempt at negotiated rulemaking on the new ORV plan fell apart when the sides could not reach a consensus.
The environmental groups got most of what they wanted in the final plan, formulated by the Park Service, so I can’t see that they have much motivation to “compromise” at this point.
The bill’s supporters are still hopeful about Senate passage and are urging all Outer Banks residents and visitors to contact their senators by phone or e-mail to urge that they support it.
At the meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners on Monday evening, May 20, Chairman Warren Judge spoke at length about the legislation.
I will end this blog with his remarks.
CHAIRMAN WARREN JUDGE’S REMARKS ON S 486 AT MAY 20 BOARD MEETING
I want to take this opportunity to thank Senator Hagan and Senator Burr for all their hard work and commitment to helping the people of Dare County and Hatteras Island. I also want to thank their staffs. Aaron and Matthew have stayed in touch with us constantly and are not only extremely knowledgeable of the issues but share a great passion for the people of Dare County. We are fortunate to have our Senators.
Last Wednesday, the House Committee marked up HR 819 and sent the legislation to the floor of the U.S. House. We are hopeful that HR 819 will pass the House and will wait for the Companion bill, S 486, in the U.S. Senate to pass and then it will be on to the President for a signature. S 486 was scheduled for markup in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Thursday. However Committee Chairman Ron Wyden wanted to pull the Bill from the agenda because it was controversial. After much discussion Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning before the committee meeting, the chairman pulled the bill and promised Senators Hagan and Burr the bill will be on the agenda at the next committee meeting on June 20.
In addition to our two senators, promises were made to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. As we watched the hearing in progress, ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is a strong supporter and not only expects to see the bill back on the agenda but wants to see a spirit of compromise with all parties at the table. You can view the committee meeting webcast by going to www.energy.senate.gov/public/ . Click on hearings and then webcast.
Once again the special interest groups dedicated to the ruin of all human life on Hatteras Island are working overtime on the propaganda that supports their false claims. We must work overtime to counter the misleading tales from Walker Golder, who lives in Wilmington, N.C.; Derb Carter, who lives in Chapel Hill, and Jason Rylander, who lives in Washington, D.C. How these men have any credibility on the status of Hatteras Island is beyond me. However, they create havoc in Washington, D.C.
Now, I don't want to use the "he is lying" but I have sat next to Derb Carter testifying before Congress, and he makes statements and gives answers to questions which ...... are just not right! He throws around words and titles like “The Wilderness Act" and "The Endangered Species Act." For some reason, his use of sound bites gives him credibility. While the seashore superintendent must deal with many acts and laws, these three men repeatedly talk out of context. While they are not scientists, these sound bites open a door for them to slither through. I call upon these three men and their organizations to end the assault on the lives of the good people of Hatteras Island and Dare County.
Since 2005 the Dare County Board of Commissioners has been steadfast and unanimous in our position of "protection for birds, turtle and plant life, in concert and cooperation with access for all users of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.”
These special interest groups spread their erroneous propaganda daily through the halls of Congress. We must continue our efforts to counter the actions and bring awareness to members of Congress as to the truth of what the situation is in the CHNSRA. As an example: Do you know there is only one bird that is threatened in Dare County yet any bird that flies over Hatteras Island and lands has protection equal to an endangered species?
I call upon everyone to stand up to these men and the groups they represent. The members of the Senate committee want to seek a compromise on this issue. We want all to know that Dare County is ready to sit at the table and to work out a fair and equitable compromise with willing partners. While we know the consent decree and now the final rule are nowhere near a compromise, I, and I am sure my fellow Commissioners, stand united and ready to meet and work on a compromise. My only request is that the intentions of all those around the table are that they are willing to compromise, correct the wrongs, and build for the future a great Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.
Looking at the impact of Hatteras on Dare’s tourist economy
The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau hosted the first-ever OBX Tourism Summit earlier this month in Avon.
About 100 people attended the two-day event, which ended with a presentation of the preliminary results of a study on the economic impact of Hatteras Island on Dare County’s tourism economy.
Although various folks over the years have culled out nuggets about Hatteras Island’s economic value to the county, this may well be the first-ever formal study of the topic.
The study was commissioned by Dare County’s Tourism Board and carried out by Brent Lane, director of the Center for Competitive Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau explained that after Hurricane Irene, some county and community leaders pressed the tourism board to come to the aid of Hatteras Island whose tourism economy took a beating in the storm.
The Visitors Bureau allotted an additional $250,000 to advertise Hatteras Island. However Nettles said that it quickly became apparent that Hatteras Island had not just an “Irene” issue or an “Irene and Sandy issue.”
“We have issues that are all access related,” Nettles said of Hatteras. Those issues include Highway 12, inlet shoaling, and beach closures.
The final written study will be delivered to the Tourism Board, but Lane gave a presentation of some of the highlights at the Tourism Summit.
The study gives some heft to ideas that we’ve had about Hatteras Island’s contribution.
The island makes a significant contribution to the overall Dare tourism economy and to the OBX “brand” value.
“Hatteras Island’s sites and sights anchor key market perceptions of the OBX,” Lane said.
First-time visitors to the island value historic and heritage assets, recreation, and natural attractions that are most closely associated with Hatteras Island, he said.
“In a lot of ways Hatteras Island is the OBX,” he added.
And he confirmed what we all know. Things that happen to Hatteras Island affect the entire OBX and Dare County economy.
Hatteras Island is home to only 12.7 percent of the Dare County population, and the island is only a fraction of the total land area of the county. However, the island contributes 23 percent of Dare’s total tourism economic impact.
Some details of the island’s tourism economy based on 2011 numbers:
- Total tourism expenditures are $204 million.
- Tourism supports 2,618 jobs on the island.
- Total tourism payroll is $41 million.
- Total state taxes collected amount to $10.3 million.
- Local taxes collected totals $9.4 million.
- Total value of real estate on the island was $2.1 billion, down $1.3 billion from $3.4 billion before revaluation.
- Hatteras Island has 8,572 parcels of land.
- Hatteras Island accounts for $106 million, or about 28 percent, of the $382 million in occupancy taxes collected in Dare County.
Next, Lane talked about the OBX “brand.”
He calculates the value of the OBX brand at $100 million and estimates that Hatteras contributes $35 million of that – slightly more than one third.
Lane also noted that access, especially to Hatteras, contributes to the vulnerability of the brand. For instance, he noted if you do an Internet search for Hatteras Island, you will be, unfortunately, viewing a lot of photos of storm damage, especially to Highway 12.
He also noted that Hatteras Island has a “denser” tourist economy with 25 percent of the island’s businesses directly related to tourism compared to about 14 percent in the county.
Hatteras has more historic sights, heritage tourism, recreation businesses – such as those related to kiteboarding, windsurfing, surfing, and fishing -- and camping.
Hatteras is “thinner” than the county as a whole on restaurants, bars, travel firms (such as outfitters) and the arts.
A final part of Lane’s study will look at whether Dare is a “donor” county – contributing more to the state than it gets back.
“This is difficult to verify,” he noted, and depending a lot on how you define donor county. At this point, he said, he has found “no strong evidence that Dare is a donor county.”
I came away from Lane’s presentation thinking about that popular bumper sticker that says, “What happens on island stays on island.”
It is funny and makes you want to chuckle.
But, when it comes to the Dare County economy, it is not true.
What happened last week on Ocracoke deserves another look
Ocracoke is still reeling from last week’s visitors to the island – not from the 400 or so anglers who were there for the 30th annual Ocracoke Village Surf Fishing Tournament but from the visit of two state troopers during the event.
The troopers arrived on Wednesday and left on Saturday morning. They were from Troop A, District 4, based in Washington, N.C.
The tournament began Wednesday evening with fishing on Thursday and Friday and ended with a party and awards on Friday evening.
Over the troopers’ three-day stay, 59 citations were issued, including 32 for not wearing seat belts and five for driving while impaired, First Sgt. Brandon Craft told Island Free Press reporter Connie Leinbach on Monday. Eighteen warnings were given, and only warnings were given for bicycle infractions, such as riding at night without a light.
The State Police spokesman was unapologetic in the interview by Leinbach.
“We knew there would be an influx of traffic that weekend, and when that happens, there’s the increased potential for violations,” Craft said about choosing last week to show up. “Our job is to reduce accidents, deter problems, and be proactive rather than reactive. We arrested five drunk drivers who could have hit a child (or adult) on the road.”
People should respect the law, Craft continued.
“People shouldn’t expect to get on Ocracoke and disobey the law,” he said. “It really shouldn’t be a big deal for a trooper to be on the island.”
As an Ocracoke business owner told me today, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
“Let them come,” said Tony McGowan, owner of Down Creek Gallery. “We expect them.”
McGowan noted that troopers have been coming to Ocracoke on major holiday weekends for years. And they came, did their jobs, and left without incident.
This time around, Ocracokers feel that the visit was different.
Many of them have told Leinbach and The Ocracoke Current that the pair who landed on the island last week were “aggressive” and “arrogant.”
There are stories of folks being stopped for having a sticker on a license plate that was crooked, being grilled about prescription drugs that they had just picked up at the medical center, having everyone in a vehicle forced to take a breathalyzer – not just the driver but the wife who was a passenger and Grandma and a teenager in the back seat.
Roadblocks and blue lights were everywhere on Thursday and Friday, and at least one motel owner said some of his guests – anglers in the tournament – were afraid to leave their room for dinner. There were reports of visitors leaving the island early because of perceived “strong-arm” or “police-state” tactics.
Let’s be clear here that Hatteras and Ocracoke islands are not without law enforcement. Both islands are covered by county deputy sheriffs and Park Service enforcement rangers, who do their jobs quite well.
There are also state troopers on a regular basis on Hatteras and less frequently on Ocracoke, and we welcome their presence.
Ocracokers who are upset by this latest visit from the State Police are not saying that islanders and visitors should be above the law and not subject to the same scrutiny that folks in all other parts of the state are.
Of course, none of us should drink and drive. We should wear seatbelts and obey all other rules of the road. Bicyclists should have lights at night.
If we don’t follow the rules, we should be cited.
It is also true that Ocracoke is extremely congested during the summer and other busy weekends. The narrow roads are clogged with vehicles, golf carts, bikes, and pedestrians.
This must be a challenge for law enforcement.
However, it is also clear from the outrage on Ocracoke, that this visit from State Police was somehow different.
There have been few, if any, comments or complaints about the state law enforcement presence on the island in the past.
This time, some person or persons were frustrated enough to throw a cinder block through the back window of a trooper’s vehicle and deface another one with paint.
This was a very bad idea that never should have happened.
It is, of course, no way to facilitate a better relationship with the State Police.
Our island economies are dependent on tourism and making our guests feel as welcome as possible. Therefore, it is important for all law enforcement officers – county, state, and federal -- to do their jobs in the most professional polite manner possible.
I am sure that is also a big challenge for policing agencies who are dealing with visitors who are on vacation and out to have a good time.
We need law enforcement, but it is also possible that enforcing the law on Ocracoke got out of hand last week.
Someone in a position of authority should take a look into that and reach out to the Ocracoke community to heal a deep divide that has developed – whatever the reason.
Public safety comes first and we should all – locals and visitors – feel comfortable with the law enforcement presence on our islands. And law enforcement officers should feel free to do their jobs.
What happened last week on Ocracoke deserves another look.
A penny for your thoughts
Frankly, the editor needs a break from writing this blog.
And we could probably all use a break from more discussion of the challenges facing Hatteras and Ocracoke as we head into the summer season.
I want to say again that Highway 12 is open, the ferries to Ocracoke are running, and businesses are ready for visitors.
Some areas of the seashore beach are closed for resource protection, including perhaps some of your favorite spots such as Cape Point on Hatteras or South Point on Ocracoke, but you can still drive to the beach. And there is plenty of pedestrian access.
I’m going to give you a very quick update on what’s happening out here on the edge, and then throw this blog open to you, our readers, for your opinions and questions.
There is still no news on the Bonner Bridge replacement lawsuit. We can always hope that no news is good news.
Coastal fishermen are gearing up for a battle in the North Carolina General Assembly over giving gamefish status to red drum, striped bass, and speckled trout. A bill in the legislature would make these fish available to recreational fishermen only and make them off limits to commercial watermen. The fish would no longer be available to consumers in restaurants and seafood shops.
Commercial fishermen are being joined in their effort to stop the bill by folks who like to buy their seafood or order it in a restaurant and a whole lot of people who oppose reserving a public resource for one group of users.
The bills to overturn the Park Service’s off-road vehicle management plan are still in committee in the U.S. House and Senate. Both bills are still alive.
There are no new developments in the Cape Hatteras Preservation Association’s lawsuit against the Park Service to overturn the ORV plan. The lawsuit has been handed over to U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The parties to the lawsuit have agreed on deadlines for filing motions for summary judgment and the like, but nothing has happened yet.
There have been few problems with overwash on Highway 12 on northern Hatteras Island since a mid-March northeaster. We are all eagerly awaiting news on when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin an emergency beach nourishment project in the area of the S-curves just north of Rodanthe. Right now the ocean is very, very close to the highway.
And, finally, we are all reeling from the news that the dredging in the heavily shoaled main channel at Hatteras Inlet has been finished after almost four months of work and ferries can still not use it because of safety concerns.
There is still at least one spot in which the channel is too shallow and too narrow for the ferries to use, though smaller boats are finding it passable.
The ferries are continuing to use an alternate route out into the sound that takes about 20 minutes longer.
The Army Corps is working on a solution, but folks on Ocracoke – and even Hatteras – are disappointed and unhappy with the results of a dredging project that cost several million dollars.
“After dredging, I never expected this – never in a million years,” said one Hatteras businessman and civic leader.
The folks on Ocracoke have been hit from all sides with the overwash on Highway 12, the loss of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry for a month, the longer ferry route that can move fewer vehicles, and the fight in the legislature over ferry tolls.
You can catch up on all of this news on the Beach Access and Local News pages.
Let us hear from you on these and any other issues on your mind.
You can fish anywhere on the beach -- and other misconceptions about the ORV plan
The National Parks Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources had a hearing last week on Senate Bill 486, which would overturn the off-road vehicle management plan at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Under the legislation, which was introduced last month by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., off-road vehicles would be managed under the seashore’s Interim Management Plan until Park Service officials present a new final plan that allows more reasonable access to the beaches.
For whatever reason, the National Park Service had a new administration witness at this hearing. At past hearings, Herbert Frost, associate director of natural resource stewardship and science for the Department of Interior, had presented testimony for the department and the NPS.
This time around, we heard from Peggy O’Dell, deputy director of operations for the Park Service.
The message was the same as it has been when previous legislation with the same goal was pending in the House or Senate.
The Department of Interior and National Park Service “strongly oppose” this bill. As Frost had before her, O’Dell declared that the ORV plan was a great success in increasing shorebird and sea turtle nesting and it had not hurt the local economy.
Neither one of those statements is entirely true, but I won’t dwell on that in this blog.
I’d like to move on to what O’Dell told Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., when he questioned her.
Heinrich said he is interested in preserving hunting and fishing rights on federal lands and asked specifically how much of the seashore beach remained open for fishing.
“People can fish anywhere,” O’Dell told him with a straight face.
That answer is, at best, misinformed, and, at worst, an outright untruth.
The truth of the situation is that you cannot fish anywhere you want at anytime you want. Large stretches of the beach, especially some of the premier fishing areas, are closed about four months during the nesting season – not only to ORVs by also to pedestrians. Or those areas might be not be officially closed but you can’t get there by ORV – or by walking unless you want to wade in breaking waves, which is only for the young and strong when you are carrying fishing tackle, coolers, and bait.
Her statement went unchallenged at the hearing, but will not remain unchallenged.
The hearing record is open for two more weeks and groups that favor more reasonable access will be weighing in with more information on why they oppose the plan. And the Outer Banks Preservation Association President John Couch is urging all residents and visitors who oppose the plan to contact their senators before Wednesday, May 8.
A bill to overturn the ORV plan passed in the House last year, but failed to get out of committee in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
At Tuesday’s hearing, subcommittee chairman, Mark Udall, noted that all of the 13 bills that were being considered, except one, were also heard by the full Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year, though none was “marked up” or sent to the full Senate for a vote.
He seemed to indicate that he would like to move the legislation forward this year.
The full committee which must “mark up” the bill has 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
At least two Democrats will have to vote in favor to get S 486 reported out of committee.
Those of us who favor more reasonable beach access have one Democrat squarely in our corner – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Manchin beat up the Park Service pretty well at a hearing last year on an identical Senate bill.
The senator has a very important connection to the seashore that is one of those “small world” stories.
Manchin was a good friend of another West Virginia politician, one who left state politics to move to Ocracoke Island in 1991, where he and his wife built one of the island’s most successful businesses – Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar.
That West Virginian was the late George Blackburn Warner Jr., known to all as Buffy.
Manchin is a Democrat and Buffy was a Republican, but the two became friends during the 1980s in the West Virginia Senate where they both served, and that may explain Manchin’s singling out last year’s bill for its bipartisan support from both the Republican and Democratic senators from North Carolina.
“They were extremely close, and they worked really well across the aisle,” said Buffy’s widow, Ann, who worked for West Virginia state government in economic development.
“Our family and his have remained friends,” she said. “Joe and his family have been visiting the Outer Banks, and especially Ocracoke, for the last 20 years.”
Manchin recalled some of those visits when he spoke earlier this week with local beach access advocates who were in Washington for the Tuesday hearing.
The local folks – David Scarborough, John Couch, and Jim Keene – arrived Monday and met with aides for Burr and Hagan.
At the end of the afternoon, on a whim, they decided to stop by Manchin’s office, figuring they might get to talk to one of his aides.
Instead, they got a meeting with the senator that lasted about 30 minutes.
“He told us stories of fishing in the Ocracoke tournament and the Anglers Club tournament,” Scarborough said.
And he vowed to become a co-sponsor of S 486 and to appear at the next day’s subcommittee hearing, where he grilled the Park Service’s O’Dell about the details of the ORV plan and the park’s relationship with the local community.
Manchin is a powerful ally because he “gets it.” He knows the seashore and knows the subtleties of the plan that other lawmakers don’t.
“He’s intimately familiar with what’s been available (to ORVs and pedestrians) and how it’s been traditionally used,” noted Scarborough.
When Peggy O’Dell says you can fish anywhere on the seashore beaches, Manchin knows that’s not true.
But that message must reach other senators, especially Democrats, for the bill to be successful.
Outer Banks Preservation Association President, John Couch, today sent an e-mail to members, urging them to contact their senators – even if they have weighed in on past bills.
It must be done again, he said, by May 8.
Beach access advocates and Dare County officials who were in Washington for the hearing were also passing out a packet of materials, prepared by OBPA, which really brings home the meaning of the closures under the ORV plan.
Besides talking points about the bill, maps, and comparison charts, the package includes a series of photos and captions, showing access restrictions in a dramatic way on one day -- July 31 of last year during the peak of the nesting closures.
This blog contains a link to that package for the information of our readers and to help them with talking points when they contact their lawmakers in Washington.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read the testimony of the National Park Service’s Peggy O’Dell at Senate subcommittee hearing.
Click here to see the package of information that OBPA and CHAPA are passing out to lawmakers.
Members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee are listed at http://www.energy.senate.gov
You can contact the senators using one or more of the following methods:
- Some Senators have public email addresses but most require the use of contact forms managed through their websites. A directory of Senator e-mail addresses does not exist, but online contact forms can be accessed using the following links.
U.S. Mail (slowest):
- Use the following address and reference S. 486:
The Honorable (Name)
Energy and Natural Resources Committee (not required if addressing a senator not on the committee)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator (Name);
- Find phone number on the Senator's website, or call the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and a switchboard operator will connect you.