August 2013
by Connie Leinbach

Ocracoke Islanders at­tending the public presentation July 17 of the NPS plan to renovate access points to the National Seashore overwhelmingly asked for more sound-side access.

The plan, titled “the envi­ronmental assessment (EA) for the Proposal to Facilitate Addi­tional Public Beach Access,” is for 29 projects along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, from Bodie Island to Ocracoke. The Ocracoke projects call for handicap ramps from the decks at the Lifeguard and Pony Pen access points to the beach. About 23 attending the public presentation in the Oc­racoke School Gym all-pur­pose area.

A new ramp would be built for wheelchair accessi­bility at the north ferry dock area to the beach. Since the north end of the island has been closed to both vehicles and pedestrians since Feb­ruary of 2012 when the new ORV plan went into effect, a new ramp—59.5—would be built further south of the now-closed ramp 59.

“This new ramp is out of the bird area at the north end of the island,” said Ran­dy Swilling, the natural re­source program manager for the CHNS.

He said the plan also calls for a new ramp called Ramp 63, further south of the cur­rent Ramp 67, and another parking area would be built on the sound side of High­way 12 at Borrow Pit Road.

The presentation at Oc­racoke and at other sites along the national seashore is the first public comment period. Citizens have until Aug. 2 to make comments on this pro­posed plan that calls for four new ramps and two ramp re­locations along the seashore. The plan can be accessed and commented on online at beach_access. Comments can also include which projects are most important.

Swilling said all com­ments and priority sugges­tions will be evaluated. Then the final plan will be sent to the park’s regional office in Georgia for final approval.

Although these approvals will take some time, Swilling, who is managing these proj­ects, said, “We really want to get these projects started as soon as possible. We’re hop­ing by the end of summer.”

While these projects have been six years in the making, he said it’s taken a lot longer to write the environmental assessment because the proj­ect area is so big.

“This plan in no way lim­its us as to future projects,” Swilling added about the possibility of more public access to water on the Pam­lico Sound side of the island. The difficulty in developing those would be funding and environmental compliance, according to Darrell Echols, deputy superintendent.

“But we’re not closed to the idea,” Echols said. He also said that repairs to the south side dock at the end of the NPS parking lot and the NPS dock on Silver Lake, both of which were damaged in last October’s Hurricane San­dy, are ready to go as soon as they receive new account numbers from Washington. He hopes these repairs also will begin by the end of sum­mer.

These projects that fa­cilitate visitor access to key recreational areas within the National Seashore are part of the controversial Final Rule Off-Road Vehicle Manage­ment Plan (ORVMP) that also implemented fees for beach driving and has al­lowed for more closures on the beaches for wildlife.S. Senate bill #486, which has passed out of commit­tee but has not yet passed the Senate or House, calls for loosening of some of the restrictions of the Final Rule, such as, extending the sea­sonal off-road vehicle routes, decreasing the buffer zones around turtle nests and al­lowing for the beach to open in the morning as soon as park personnel have cleared the nesting areas in “rolling” openings.


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