By Connie Leinbach
The new superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, David Hallac, said he’s willing to revisit all of Ocracoke’s concerns about the park service.
Hallac, along with the CHNS Public Affairs Specialist Cyndy Holda, attended the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting Wednesday night. Hallac became the new superintendent in December.
“I will try to be here or we will get someone to attend these meetings and be a liaison,” he said.
Hallac addressed a number of themes of concern to islanders.
The biggest one is sound-side access to the water.
“You can’t drive to on the sound-side roads without a beach access permit,” said Jim Borland, an OCBA board member.
“I didn’t know that was a concern, but I’ll be happy to look at it,” Hallac said.
He was referring to the NPS plan, titled “The Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Proposal to Facilitate Additional Public Beach Access,” unveiled in July 2013. It calls 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 that presentation in the Ocracoke School gym overwhelmingly asked for more sound-side access.
A new ramp would be built for wheelchair accessibility at the north ferry dock area to the beach, and two new ramps are slated: Ramp 63 and Ramp 59.5 that would be built further south of ramp 59.
“A new project (in the sound-side) would have to go through an environmental study,” he explained about the length of time needed to get this accomplished.
He also confirmed that the NPS will hire lifeguards again from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the public beach. Again, they will contract the service out to a private firm as they did last year.
Several islanders had asked if the NPS could open the beaches earlier than 7 a.m. to accommodate those starting work at 8 a.m. who might want to go to the beach before that.
“How about dawn?” Borland asked.
Hallac said it would all depend on staff availability.
He also said he would be willing to look at adding more flexible beach-driving permits, such as for a weekend or a day, as well as having them dated from date of purchase.
Again, he said, it depends on the cost of administering these passes.
Right now, they sell approximately 30,000 permits yielding about $2 million, Hallac said. About $1 million of that revenue goes towards administering the permit program.
Another concern islanders had was the intimidating tactics used by of some of the law-enforcement officers with visitors on the beach this summer.
“We’re a welcoming committee to the National Seashore and we need to be friendly out in the field,” Hallac responded.
Hallac, who has a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from the University of Vermont, managed the Yellowstone Center for Resources at Yellowstone National Park for the last three years before coming to the Outer Banks.