As the year winds down, we take a look at the top newsworthy events that impacted Ocracoke.
Without a doubt, the big story was a shark attack July 1 off the Lifeguard Beach.
Andrew Costello, a former editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald and frequent visitor to Ocracoke, was swimming when he was pulled underwater by a shark, which repeatedly bit him. Immediately, the story became national news.
This incident marked the seventh shark attack in the state this year, an unusually high number leading to much speculation for reasons why. Are there more sharks present in the Carolina waters? Is their food supply (smaller fish) closer to shore than normal? The list went on.
This news impacted the island. The popular Ride the Wind surf camp pretty much ended as adventurers took to other activities, including kayaking. There were some cancellations, and those lodges with swimming pools got a lot of inquiries about bookings.
We are glad that Costello survived and was released July 22. This was due to the quick and professional responses by lifeguards, the Hyde County EMS, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, the flight nurse crew of East Care who performed a medevac by helicopter and the staff of the Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.
NEW BASEBALL FIELD
In March, Ocracoke Island inaugurated an official, regulation baseball field–Community Park at the end of Maurice Ballance Road. Four years in the
making, it was built by the community and is owned by the community. The school and Little League teams played their seasons on it and big plans are still in store for this amazing testament to many islanders’ visions, tenacity and hard work.
Weather is always a consideration on Ocracoke and rarely does a year go by without a major storm.
Just as businesses were saying how pleased they were with the tourist season overall and September in particular, late in the month the rains began and lasted nearly two weeks, followed by a hurricane. The NOAA and other
forecasting models had Hurricane Joaquin heading directly toward Ocracoke around Oct. 5. So a mandatory evacuation was declared Oct. 1.
Though the island dodged a direct hit, subsequent flooding prevented the return of visitors for several days and island businesses lost a week or so of business.
Afterwards, islanders were all pro-European model that predicted the hurricane would veer off into the Atlantic Ocean, which it did.
Last year, when Category 2 Hurricane Arthur was heading towards Ocracoke July 4, the Hyde County commissioners, led in this instance by Ocracoke’s representative, John Fletcher, declared a “voluntary evacuation.” This designation was confusing to islanders and visitors alike. Everyone understands what a mandatory evacuation is even if islanders choose to ignore it.
Our lifeline to civilization–the North Carolina ferry system–continues to be a major concern.
In a surprise to many, tolling the Hatteras ferry suddenly was back on the table in October. The Dare County Commissioners, without checking with anyone in Hyde County, voted in October to support a toll should the powers that be elect to enact one. While there is yet no toll on the ferry, this breakdown in communication and cooperation is serious, and one wonders what was behind that maneuver.
A legislative attempt to radically change the well-functioning priority pass system for islanders and businesses was successfully batted down thanks to Rep. Paul Tine, Ocracoke’s rep. in the House. The Senate had approved a yearly fee of $150 and anyone with the bucks could purchase one.
The possibility of a passenger ferry between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke village got closer to becoming a reality when the state received a $7 million grant for infrastructure.
A feasibility study is due in December, and we look forward to reading it.
The Ocrafolk Festival continued to be a class event. This intimate festival provides the opportunity for fans and musicians to mingle. When Rob Sharer of Craicdown fame was asked, “Who enjoyed it more? The audience or the musicians?” He replied, “That’s a tough question.”
The Clam Chowder Cookoff Easter weekend, the Fig Festival in August and Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree in October got good reviews and brought visitors to the island, many for the first time. Based on our anecdotal chats, these folks greatly enjoyed their stay and looked forward to returning.
SCHOOL GETS ‘A’
The General Assembly mandated that all public and charter schools in the state receive letter grades for the 2013-14 results, based on achievement scores and student academic growth. Ocracoke garnered worthy attention when in February it was the only school in the three Outer Banks counties to earn an A. What’s most noteworthy is the Ocracoke School produces high academic achievers on a shoestring budget.
“We are a community school supported by our parents,” said Principal Walt Padgett, adding that this fuels student motivation to do well.
Nearly half of the schools in North Carolina were given C grades, according to the report.
The students, faculty and parents worked together for this well-earned designation.
LOSS OF REP. PAUL TINE
Finally, Ocracoke is losing a good friend in the General Assembly, as co-chair of the Transportation Committee Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) announced he would not seek reelection and would end his term in 2016.
He has consistently opposed ferry tolls and is working with this co-chair John A. Torbett (R-Gaston) to get ferry replacement out of a limited regional transportation fund and into the general fund. This accomplishment, we hope, would end talk of a toll on the Hatteras ferry.