By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich
The Hyde County commissioners last night agreed to take another look at the Ocracoke noise ordinance following a discussion among island residents about the difficulties of enforcing it.
The commissioners met in the Ocracoke Community Center and were on telephone conference with attendees in Swan Quarter in the Hyde County Services building.
According to the ordinance, no outdoor music is to be above 70 decibels and it has to stop at 10 p.m. Music can still be indoors, but sound is not supposed to cross over boundaries to disturb others. The ordinance does not say anything about what the decibel level should be from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Two business owners, Sean Death, owner of the Ocracoke Bar and Grille on Irvin Garrish Highway, and Ann Ehringhaus, owner of Oscar’s Bed & Breakfast, across the street from the “O Bar,” have been tussling over this ordinance this season.
Noise from that establishment can sometimes be heard by guests in the B&B after 10 p.m., she said.
“This is a residential area,” Ehringhaus said. “I can’t sit in my own living room when there’s a northwest wind even at 70 decibels.”
Dick Tunnell, the commissioner from Swan Quarter pointed out that there’s no zoning on Ocracoke that separates business activity from residential areas.
Death pointed out that music and noise from other establishments on the island can also be heard out on the street. “Show me what decibel level we can be at after 10 p.m. and enforce that for everyone island-wide so that the deputies can drive by and determine whether to say ‘you’re in violation,’ ” Death said.
Darlene Styron said she was Ocracoke’s commissioner when the noise ordinance was approved.
“We had a diverse group of businesses and home owners and we worked hard on coming up with an agreement,” she said. “It comes down to respect for neighbors. We all want music. If people can’t be respectful, they should be fined.”
During the public comments, local musician, Jon Lea, said his concern with the ordinance is consistency. One can measure with a decibel meter to play within the noise limit, but after 10 p.m. it is left up to the discretion of the deputy sheriff. “I am respectful and try to not play too loud after 10 p.m.” he said.
The commissioners asked Bill Rich, the county manager, to look into other noise ordinances, including the Nags Head area, and attempt to define an acceptable decibel level for the time period after 10 p.m. and if it can be modified for different seasons.
In other business, the commissioners, after looking at five possible properties, narrowed down their choice for the new quarters for the island emergency medical services (EMS) building to two locations that need further research.
One is a property is owned by Ronnie Vann O’Neal along Back Road and across from the Ocracoke Health Center, the other is where the former Flying Melon Café is located, beside the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department and is owned by Charlie O’Neal
“We need a location for future growth of Hyde County government,” Rich said about the search, adding that he would like to have a place that also could accommodate the department of social services, the home health care nurse, the sheriff’s office and the Ocracoke Health Center.
“We’d love a united campus to accommodate nine county organizations,” he said. “So, the question is what do we really want and how are we going to pay for it?”
Both sites had different lease/purchase terms that the commissioners asked Rich to further delineate, including pros and cons of both.
Business owner, Mike Johnson, in the public comments period, stressed that the new location should not be in a residential area; that it should be on Highway 12 and that the Charlie O’Neal property/Flying Mellon is best for an EMS facility.
Ocracoke Commissioner John Fletcher said locating the EMS at the former Flying Melon location would be in violation of the island’s development ordinance and Hyde County government shouldn’t violate it
In the last year, the Ocracoke Health Center combined services with the Engelhard Health Center and attained “federally qualified health center” (FQHC) status, for which the new entity received a federal grant.
Cheryl Ballance, CEO of the Ocracoke Health Center, informed the commissioners last year that the FQHC status required the center to expand services and that the EMS office would have to vacate the building they are currently in by Dec. 31, which is in the back of the health center.
Rich explained that he was looking to lease a property for several years while the county look for grants to purchase property.
Earlier in the meeting, Rich commended the excellent work of the EMS, the sheriff’s office and the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department in the medevac operation for Anthony Costello who was severely injured by a shark attack on July 1. Costello was air-lifted to the Level I trauma center, Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Costello was released July 18 from Vidant Medical Center.
“While I’m glad to be home, I remain focused on my long road of recovery,” Costello said in a media release July 20 from the hospital.” I want to thank my family, friends and staff at Vidant Medical Center for their love, support and excellent care that I received. I will not be releasing any further statements or providing interviews.”
Rich also praised the Hyde County EMS Director Justin Gibbs, and Hyde County information officer, Sarah Johnson, in providing timely information on Costello’s injuries and at the same time protecting his privacy.
The commissioners approved a Golden Leaf revolving loan for $15,000 to the Devil Shoals Oyster Farm Co. on the island prior to the revolving loan committee’s approval so that the islanders involved can get going now.
The company, that includes Clam Lady Jane (Arleen Burley) and Captain Puddleducks Seafood (Heather O’Neal), has set 100,000 oyster spats (eggs) in the Pamlico Sound and intends to harvest oysters year-round.
Paul Spruill, CEO of Tideland Electric Member Cooperative, gave a presentation on the uses of the Ocracoke electric generator, and why it was not put in use during the power outage of July 11.
That generator was installed decades ago, he said, before Ocracoke’s electric power became a part of Tideland, EMC
At that time, the generator could power the entire island. It is now owned by North Carolina Electric Member Cooperative based in Raleigh and is used only as a “peak shaving” generator, meaning it helps take some of the load off the power coming down the lines from Cape Hatteras.
“Most importantly,” he said, “the Ocracoke generator can only handle 2.8 megawatts of power, yet the entire island pulls about 5 megawatts of power.”
This winter when the power went out due to extreme cold, the generator could not help because even with a reduced number of people on the island it was still not able to handle the electric load.
“From 1996 to 2003, it seemed like with every outage, the generator could handle the load,” Spruill said.
But the last 10 years has seen a lot of increased electric use, he said, and the island is using 6.5 megawatts of power making it difficult or impossible to provide sufficient power.
Fletcher asked why Tideland doesn’t get a generator that could carry the island load.
Spruill said that it would cost $3 to $4.5 million and permitting it would be tricky.
Kris Noble, director of the Office of Economic Development and Planning, introduced Dr. Christine Avenarius, associate professor of
anthropology at East Carolina University. Averarius briefed the commissioners on the results of a study she coordinated, Perceptions of Environmental and Economic Change in Coastal North Carolina. She said information on the study can be accessed on the ECU website. Click here for more details.
Fireworks for next year’s July 4 celebration took a step forward when Ocracoke Civic and Business Association secretary, Connie Leinbach, requested that Hyde County be the responsible entity for the liability insurance policy.
Once that is approved, she said, the OCBA can start the process of contracting with a fireworks company and reserve a date.
The commissioners approved the request. They had approved the same request for this year, but for several reasons, including finding a company to provide the fireworks on the actual holiday, a fireworks display did not take place.
Business owner George Chamberlin said during public comments that not all on Ocracoke were in favor of spending up $30,000 for a fireworks display that would last less 20 minutes and the money could be better spent for the community.