Editorial & Opinion

It’s time to start the ferry fight again

 

Hatteras Island. Waiting to board for Ocracoke. Photo by C. Leinbach

Hatteras Island. Waiting to board for Ocracoke. Photo by C. Leinbach

Ocracoke may rest a little easier these next five years on the offshore oil drilling front, but islanders may have another fight on their hands soon as the specter of a toll on the Hatteras Ferry rises once again.

And this may be the most crucial fight yet as the local Regional Planning Organization—the Albemarle Commission—is poised to vote for tolling Ocracoke’s lifeline because the NC Ferry Division needs money to purchase replacement ferries for its aging fleet.

New car ferries cost about $15 million while a propose addition of passenger ferries to the mix would only cost about $2 million each.

The problem lies in the fact that two years ago, the NC General Assembly kicked ferry tolling down to the local level to 10 newly created RPOs that deal with local transportation needs.

The RPO that Ocracoke is in has about $30 million with which to finance all transportation projects in its 10-county eastern North Carolina region, which includes Hyde County. Paying for one new ferry a year would take half of that money while pitting the 10 counties against each other. Thus the quest to levy a toll.

State Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), who is co-chair of the NC House Transportation Committee, wants to eliminate all tolls on ferries.

He and colleague Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk), who represents Hyde, have vowed to try to get ferry replacement out of the RPO and back into the transportation capital fund where historically it has been.

They and others say that ferries should be viewed the same as any other piece of transportation equipment.

We point out comments by Tom Pahl, who recently won the primary election for Ocracoke county commissioner, at the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association candidate’s night forum held Feb. 25:

“… the Ferry Division is a part of NCDOT. NCDOT has a $4 billion plus budget. That budget is greater than the defense budget of the Ukraine. The money we need to operate the ferries (never mind the piece of it that’s Ocracoke-Hatteras) is so relatively small compared to that entire budget that it’s ridiculous to think that it’s necessary to toll that ferry. It’s also unfair.”

Torbett said in a recent interview that his House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions, which met on mainland Hyde in January, is crafting language to this effect for a bill to be introduced in the short legislative session that begins April 25.

The House is in favor of putting ferry replacement back into the transportation capital fund, but the Senate is not, he said, and that is the challenge.

Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said he has asked our state Senator Bill Cook to lead the charge in the Senate for this proposal.

Rich asks that islanders “bomb Cook with letters.”

So, time is of the essence, and it is time to start this campaign anew.

Senator Cook’s office address is:
300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 525
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925

phone number: (919) 715-8293
email: bill.cook@ncleg.net.