Just as one issue Ocracokers have been dealing with lately gets resolved, another one pops up.
The regular ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke via the Rollinson Channel is expected to resume operations as of press time, according to NC Department of Transportation officials. The pipeline dredge Richmond has finished its work vacuuming out the ferry lane that had filled in with sand from both Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.
While the dredge was working since early December, a couple of northeasters blew more sand into the inlet effectively preventing the ferry from running from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22. During that time, Ocracokers had to use the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries to drive anywhere. However, with pressure from locals and Dare County officials, the Coast Guard surveyed a natural channel further west in the Pamlico Sound and put it into action on Feb. 22 while the dredge continued to work.
The specter of increased ferry tolls has again reared its head this year.
First, there was the expiration in January on the moratorium that had been placed on raising any ferry tolls by former Gov. Beverly Perdue. The General Assembly then directed the DOT to disregard the executive order and lifted the moratorium, putting the tolling back into effect for July 1.
In January, the rule to toll ferries was authorized again and the DOT again held hearings on raising ferry tolls on the already-tolled ferries.
But late in March, Islanders were heartened when members of the state House and Senate proposed eliminating tolls on all ferries in “Ferry Tolling Alternatives,” House Bill #475 and Senate Bill #524.
According to these bills, new revenue sources would include selling numerous concessions, including wireless internet service, selling naming rights to ferries boats, routes, and buildings, and numerous individual advertising opportunities.
However, less than a week later, Senate transportation leaders filed their own bill to establish tolls on all routes, including the only two that are still toll-free–the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry and the Knotts Island ferry.
The two are Sens. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation committee, to which SB 660 was assigned, and Bill Rabon of Southport, who is co-chair of the House-Senate Transportation Oversight Committee.
Joe McClees, one half of the team of lobbyists hired by Hyde County to fight for Ocracoke in Raleigh, said this latter bill is a “chess move to officially block what we’re doing.” This is the politics of haggling over the budget that must be passed in June.
In addition, local commercial fishermen’s livelihoods are under attack with the introduction April 17 of House Bill 983 “2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act,” which proposes to designate red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as game fish and only catchable by recreational fishermen and not commercial fishermen. If this bill is passed, it will seriously impact Ocracoke commercial fishermen and the Fish House.
What makes this bill tricky is the third section of it, which calls for the allocation of money from the Highway Fund to shallow draft dredging, whose inlets include Hatteras and Silver Lake.
Islanders and visitors are encouraged to send messages to all members of the Legislature about the impact these bills would have on Ocracoke.