Editorial & Opinion

It’s time to get ferry replacement funding out of the ARPO

Ferries at the South Dock, which is at the north end of Ocracoke.

Ferries at the South Dock, which is at the north end of Ocracoke. Photo by C. Leinbach

Islanders interested in voicing their concerns to the NC State General Assembly about whether or not to toll the Hatteras Ferry to garner money for ferry replacement should contact members of the NC Senate Transportation Committee now.

The short legislative session began April 25, and both Rep. Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) and Senators Bill Cook (R-District 1) and Norman Sanderson (R-District 2) last week introduced bills to eliminate ferry tolls and appropriate money for ferry replacement from the Highway Fund. 

Tine’s bill is HB 1002 and the Cook/Sanderson bill is SB 812 (Ferry Tolling/Replacement Funds).  Both would be effective July 1. The House Transportation Committee is expeceted to take up HB 1002 on noon, Tuesday, May 10. To see the legislative calendar, click here .

In recent years, some members in the legislature have pointed out that the Ferry Division “loses” $5 million a year from ferry operations.  Hence the quest to toll the Hatteras ferry.

But why is this considered a loss?  What about the more than $60 million plus the state spends on snow removal? How much does it spend on rock-slide removal and bridge maintenance? Who would consider these services a loss?

Moreover, the Ferry Division’s $5 million plus “loss” is minuscule in the overall $4.4 billion NCDOT budget.

Historically, ferry replacements were simply done by a legislative appropriation, but in 2013, the legislature decided to boot the issue of ferry funding down to the local level.

Then Gov. Pat McCrory divided the state into 10 districts, giving them each a pot of money in which to fund all transportation needs.

These districts are overseen by a Regional Planning Organization (RPO) composed of various elected officials, and these folks decide who gets a bridge or who gets a new ferry based on a complicated formula.

Ocracoke’s RPO is the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (ARPO), which has $32 million per year to cover all infrastructure costs.

Of course, a $15 million new ferry could not be funded out of this money.

Fortunately, the ARPO on April 27 agreed to wait to see if Cook’s and Tine’s bills pass, said Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, who attended the meeting.

The timing now is right for this bill to pass since the state reportedly has a budget surplus.

It’s also time for islanders to write to members of the Senate Transportation Committee as to their positions on this subject.

The Observer reminds readers of what Tine said in October about corresponding with Legislators.

First: be nice and thank the legislators for their service.

Second: legislators want to hear from their constituents only. The concerns of non-constituents–while we appreciate their doing so on our behalf–do not count.

“We like to hear what’s going on,” Tine told the Observer recently. “We like to hear from our constituents.”

But he said people should do so in a respectful manner.

Henri McClees, a lobbyist hired by Hyde County to fight ferry tolling, said constituents can write the same letter, but they should be sent individually to the senators.

Constituents also can call legislators’ offices and voice their opinion, or drop each senator a post card with their message.

Contact information on all of the state legislators can be found at www.ncleg.net, and all of the legislators’ emails follow the same convention, such as for Warren Daniel, who is a co-chair of the committee: warren.daniel@ncleg.net.

The other members are as follows:  Bill Rabon, co-chairman; Kathy Harrington, vice-chairman; Wesley Meredith, co-chairman. Members: Jim Davis, Joel D. M. Ford, Rick Gunn, Ralph Hise, Joyce Krawiec, Paul A. Lowe Jr., Gladys Robinson, Erica Smith-Ingram and Tommy Tucker.