By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich
The Hyde County commissioners last night agreed to drop a proposed Ocracoke noise ordinance with criminal penalties and leave the current ordinance standing.
While close to 50 islanders packed into the Ocracoke School commons room, as well as in the Hyde County Services building in Swan Quarter where the meeting was held, the issue went out with whimper and not a bang.
“There’s a petition with more than 1,400 names and I’ve gotten tons and tons of letters,” said Bill Rich, Hyde County manager about the most recent proposal. “It’s very obvious that this (new) ordinance is not favorable to a lot of people. If we drop this one, we can keep what we have. It leaves us with something that protects us in the future.”
His recommendation was to leave the current ordinance in effect on the books without the night decibel levels and the criminal penalties that so many people had objected to.
“(The proposed ordinance) would have criminalized a good joke after 10 p.m.,” said islander Jenny Starr after the meeting.
The ordinance was enacted in 2001 (with subsequent amendments) to control the level and duration of outside music and noise. According to the ordinance, amplified music can only be played to 70 decibels and only until 10 p.m. From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. the ordinance only says that “noise” must be indoors and/or contained on one’s property.
Hyde’s most recent proposal retained the 70 decibel daytime limit, set a decibel level of 53 after 10 p.m. and included criminal penalties for violations.
Rich told the commissioners that he had been asked by law enforcement to come up with something measurable after 10 p.m.
The community has been discussing the noise ordinance this season mostly stemming from complaints
from Oscar’s House B&B about the Ocracoke Bar & Grille, which is across the street. It culminated this fall in the Bar receiving a criminal violation from the Hyde County sheriff’s department.
That citation was recently dismissed Judge Wayland J. Sermons Jr. in Hyde County superior court because the ordinance is a civil ordinance, Rich said.
“It needs to be criminal, or it’s not enforceable,” Rich told the commissioners.
Later in the meeting, Hyde County Sheriff Guire Cahoon said without the current ordinance they could not stop loud noise at a rental house.
“My opinion is that the neighbors on Ocracoke can work out this problem,” he said.
While close to 50 islanders attended the meeting, only a few spoke after the new ordinance was dropped.
One who did was Jeremy Piland, who skipped his afternoon college classes in Raleigh to drive three hours to Swan Quarter for the meeting. He said he has been working summers on the island since 2000, and the music hasn’t gotten any louder. He wanted to emphasize by his presence that it is not just locals that have a stake in the ordinance.
“To say things have changed, I don’t see it happening,” he said. “Should there be something in place? Sure, but friends should be able to talk at night, yes they should.”
Most thanked the commissioners for leaving the ordinance status quo and reiterated that the suggested new decibel levels were too low.
After that, Commissioner Barry Swindell proposed that the county not have any noise ordinance and repeal the one on the books.
“Ocracoke is a tourist town,” he said. “The problem is unless you do away with (the ordinance) you’ll still have problems. It needs a concerted effort in the community to control the noise.”
While he and Commissioner John Fletcher (who represents Ocracoke) voted to repeal the current ordinance, the other two commissioners voted against it, and that motion failed 3-2.
Fletcher, though, had further ideas.
“For the benefit of the law enforcement officers we could add that they need not respond to a complaint about noise before midnight unless they have complaints from three people,” Fletcher said.
That suggestion was not acted on.
After the meeting, Sean Death said he was happy with the outcome.
“This was a good thing for the community,” he said. “When the question is brought up of who do we want to be, this should speak volumes. This has been the biggest outpouring of the community I’ve ever seen. It brought the business owners together for a common cause.”
Mickey Baker, who had been vocal in recent weeks about her and some others’ desire for quiet after 10 p.m., said she almost panicked when she thought the noise ordinance would be repealed altogether.
“We need to have something in place,” she said.
In other business, Rich noted that a new trash hauler from Washington has been found to take over trash and recycling for Ocracoke.
DBBH Inc. is buying out David’s Trash Hauling Services and will be the new hauler as of Wednesday, he said.
As for the more than 300 ducks in the village around Community Square and British Cemetery Road, Rich said he found a certified wildlife person to trap the ducks humanely for $4,200 and take them to a private landowner in Mount Olive.
He said he would ask the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board to cover this cost as it relates to tourism since the growing number of ducks affects the hotels in the village.
Will Doerfer, special assistant county manager, who has helped research the ducks’ removal, added that they would be part of an ornamental pond. After their wings are clipped and grow back, the ducks will have habituated to their new home.
Fletcher also asked Rich to ask NC Department of Transportation to look into possibly moving the section of Highway 12 at the north end of the island that is subject to ocean over wash further west. The dunes alongside it are undergoing nourishment.
“I heard that one of the trucks went into the ocean and had to be pulled out,” he said.
The commissioners also discussed the recent economic summit in Swan Quarter that included members of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions, chaired by Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston).
During that meeting, islanders talked to the group about how critical ferry service is to the island, especially keeping the Hatteras Ferry free.
Rich said that thanks to the efforts of Torbett and Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk), the 10 members of the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (ARPO) voted unanimously last week to postpone any vote on tolling that ferry.
Tolling the Hatteras Ferry is all about finding money to pay for replacement boats at about $15 million each.
“They said they would wait until the spring short session to see if the General Assembly can agree to take ferry replacement (a capital expense) out of the $32 million allotted to the ARPO,” Rich said.
Commissioner Ben Simmons, who is a voting member of the ARPO, Monday night stressed how important it is for islanders to write to their legislators about this issue.
“The RPO will vote for tolls if (ferry replacement funding) is not taken care of in the short session,” he said.