By Connie Leinbach
The North Carolina Select Committee on Transportation Planning will meet on mainland Hyde on Monday, Jan. 25, to discuss transportation, specifically focusing on ferries and aviation.
The group, chaired by Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston County, is meeting to discuss transportation issues unique to our coastal area. There are 20 legislators on that committee, but Hyde County Manager Bill Rich does not yet know if all will attend.
Their meeting will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the newly remodeled Outpost, a motel and conference center along Route 264 midway between Swan Quarter and Engelhard.
Torbett also has invited islanders to talk to the attending legislators during their morning session from 10:30 to noon.
“I want the the committee need to hear directly from Ocracokers about how important the ferries are to our lives and to the economy of Ocracoke and Hyde County,” he said.
In addition, islanders who can’t make the 7 a.m. ferry are invited to walk on the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Swan Quarter (arriving around 11:45 a.m.) and talk with the committee members who will be transported to the ferry dock to talk with islanders on the ferry before the ferry departs again at 1 p.m., said Rich.
These public comment initiatives are being organized by islanders Darlene Styron and Tom Pahl.
A public meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 21) in the Ocracoke Community Center to discuss plans for the Monday, Jan. 25, trip to Swan Quarter.
“It’s fantastic,” Rich said about the legislators’ visit to Hyde County. “With (Rep. Paul) Tine and Torbett here, this helps give us the opportunity to ask (the legislators) to take ferry replacement funding out of the Regional Planning Organization.”
Ferry replacement funding has been a point of contention recently as Ed Goodwin, the NC Ferry Division chief, and members of the NC Board of Transportation, have suggested tolling the Hatteras Ferry to pay for these costs.
In a surprise move in October, the Dare County commissioners voted to go along with tolling the Hatteras ferry should that question arise at the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization, the local group tasked with deciding what transportation projects get funded–including purchasing new car ferries–from a $32 million pot. However, the ARPO has decided to see what happens when the General Assembly convenes in April for a short session.
Torbett and Tine, unaffiliated of Kitty Hawk, who represents Ocracoke and who is on this committee, have both said their goal when the General Assembly convenes in April is to take the pressure off local committees to fund car-ferry replacement vessels and to eliminate all ferry tolls.
“It is my intent to get vessel replacement out of RPO and get into the main transport budget,” Torbett had said in a November interview.
“The money is there (in the state budget for ferry replacement),” Tine had said an Oct. 19 meeting on the island. “The problem is getting the Senate to agree. We need to remove it out of the Division 1 RPO, or at least put it into the regional pot of money.”
As it stands now, the cost of replacing car ferries (at about $15 million each) is included in the $32 million pot of money the state gives to each of 10 RPOs across the state to finance all transportation needs in their respective districts. This new method, created by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013, is called the Strategic Transportation Investments. Prior to that, ferry replacement was funded through appropriations by the General Assembly.
To read the recent story on this issue, click here.
After the group finishes talking about ferries in the afternoon, the meeting will focus on aviation on the mainland, Rich said. Rich and county economic development officer Kris Noble are trying to woo a company that manufacture drones, or unmanned aviation vehicles, to locate in Hyde County where there are lots of open space in which to test these small air craft.
Then, at 5 p.m., an economic summit will begin with members of NC Wildlife Resources Commission and continue through Tuesday, Rich said.
Noble had explained at the Jan. 4 commissioners meeting that her statistics show that Hyde County economic strengths are farming, forestry, hunting, fishing and tourism.
When State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker visited the mainland, Noble said she advocated focusing on tourism for economic development, and restoring the Lake Mattamuskeet lodge back to a hunting-fishing-tourist destination is right up that alley.
The goal would be for the lodge, which has 13 to 15 rooms, to be a commercial and educational enterprise.
Rich said the county will ask the state to help finish the renovation, and after that, the goal is for a commercial outfit to run it using local guides for hunting, kayaking, bird watching, even weddings.
“We want to show them everything we’ve done to substantiate a public-private partnership,” he said.
To view the members of the Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions, click here.