Ocracoke has to stay vigilant about many issues
By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke can’t let down its guard.
While it was reported in last month’s Observer that the Ocracoke School would lose its art teacher due to continuing state public education budget cuts, this position may be restored by the time this issue is in print.
According to Joe McClees, one of a duo of lobbyists hired by Hyde County to promote coastal North Carolina interests, budgets submitted by both the state House and Senate have restored the Small School Funding of which Ocracoke is a beneficiary.
Funding for North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching also is in both budget versions, according to Todd Vinyard, NCCAT spokesman. NCCAT, which brings teachers from all over the state to Ocracoke for seminars, is located at the south end of the island in the former Coast Guard building.
According to S. Henri McClees, the other half of the lobbyist duo, the two budget proposals are widely different. During the last two weeks of June, they hammer out the differences by July 1, and at press time, the two houses were still negotiating.
Also of interest to islanders and visitors is the continued wrangling about ferry tolls, which, according to last year’s legislation, are supposed to fund replacement boats.
Rep. Paul Tine (D-Kitty Hawk) said recently that the House’s budget took the replacement of ferries out of the “divisional” pot of money and restores it to the maintenance side of the DOT budget which funds equipment all over the state.
“We will drive other revenue,” Tine said. “The ferries are a tourist attraction which should increase interest in advertising.”
As it is now (which the Senate has not changed), the decision to enact tolls is in the hands of local folks who are part of a Rural Planning Organization that includes 10 counties in eastern North Carolina.
A complicated funding procedure (see page 19) devised last year by Gov. Pat McCrory and called the Strategic Transportation Investments divided the state into 10 regions all of whom were given $32 million with which to fund bridges, trains, airports, roads, bike and pedestrian projects and ferry replacement.
After a series of public hearings this winter, the three RPOs that have ferries in their transportation mix ignored the DOT’s request to enact or raise tolls.
In the last several weeks, members of both the House and the Senate proposed bills to eliminate all ferry tolls.
“Those bills are just sitting there,” Henri McClees explained, and will not be acted on while the budget is negotiated. “If we don’t get the House version of the budget we will just keep fighting (tolls) in January when the new session begins.”
Until then, the ferry system stays status quo and tolls cannot be increased nor additional tolls enacted, she said.
Then there’s continued concern about the Rollinson Channel—the short ferry route between Ocracoke and Hatteras.
At press time this channel still has not been dredged adequately to allow safe ferry passage. Fortunately, the Ferry Division has been using a natural channel since December, albeit it is a longer ride necessitating longer waits for visitors at the Hatteras Ferry dock.
Then there are the continuing attempts by the game fish lobby to make some prized local fish off limits to commercial fishermen further hurting the village economy.
Though it wasn’t without some pain, Ocracoke has lifeguards at the public beach this summer. The National Park Service, which owns the beach, wanted to eliminate funding these positions, and after lots of negotiations and $10,000 paid by Hyde County, lifeguards were on duty by Memorial Day.
The OCBA at its June meeting agreed to start now to make sure the NPS has lifeguards in its budget next year.
The Observer will continue to monitor these issues and report on them.