A recent article in Raleigh’s The News & Observer reported on Senate Transportation Committee chairman, Sen. Bill Rabon’s legislative proposal to charge Ocracoke residents a $150 fee for a priority pass and, if passed, would become effective July 15. To pile on, this proposed bill states: The fee would be in addition to any applicable ferry toll.
As one could expect, there were a lot of published comments to this news. Many islanders raised several excellent points as to why this bill was, to use an old Washington, D.C., term, “flawed.”
Some commenters from the mainland believe Ocracokers are getting handouts and special treatment citing sand removal and no charge for ferries as two examples. Does someone want to explain the difference between snow and sand removal? Then there are the high costs of building bridges that far exceed the relatively small costs of a ferry system.
Ocracoker Tom Pahl pointed out in a letter to The News & Observer: “I note that Sen. Bill Rabon represents a district that includes a large section of coastal Carolina, including the island communities of Wrightsville Beach, Figure Eight Island and Topsail Beach. I would suggest to him that he consider, in fairness, sponsoring a bill that would impose an annual fee of $150 on the residents in his district who live on those islands for the privilege of crossing the bridges that connect them to the mainland.”
There are no bridges to Ocracoke. Pahl and others noted the ferries to Ocracoke are a part of the highway system, just like those critical bridges in the Senator’s district. So why should he pick our island for special punitive treatment?
The article noted Rabon said the proposal was “inspired by complaints from a wealthy Brunswick County resident who owns two houses on Ocracoke” and who doesn’t like to wait for the ferry.
“Inspiration” for legislation that could negatively affect communities with senior citizens on fixed (or very little) income should not derive from wealthy, inconvenienced off-island property owners.
The majority of Ocracoke residents are not wealthy. They are hard-working, dedicated people who help each other. They do not have many of the basic services available (such as large medical facilities) in other towns throughout the state. To visit a doctor, dentist, or to get a driver’s license, requires an off-island trip that takes many hours and often an overnight stay in a hotel.
Mainlanders who daily cross bridges that cost millions of dollars to build would never consider those costs, and they would be outraged if they had to pay a toll to cover those expenses.
An important solution to long waits at the Hatteras ferry is to improve the ferry system so that all do not have to wait. A passenger ferry addition to car ferries may greatly improve this problem, and the state’s ferry division is seriously investigating this option.
It is easy to pick on a small community outside of a politician’s safe district and single them out for a pay-as-you-go scheme. But bear in mind, Ocracoke is a special place in North Carolina with a colorful history going back to the 1700s. It is world-famous for its beautiful beach (See Page 1), its unique culture and charm.
If it comes down to politicians in the General Assembly pass legislation that force people to have to leave, they will have effectively destroyed one of the state’s most treasured resources.
We contacted Ocracoke’s elected representatives Sen. Bill Cook and Rep. Paul Tine, and, for the record, both are against this proposed bill.
California Gov. Jerry Brown recently said that this country has not been this divided on so many issues since the Civil War, and it’s hard to disagree.
The time is now that we all work together for the common good of North Carolina. Ocracoke is an important community in this state.
To read the News & Obsesrver story,click here.