By Peter Vankevich
The addition of two new members to the Ocracoke’s Occupancy Tax Board were resolved Tuesday when the Hyde County commissioners approved the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association recommendations.
Unanimously approved to the five-member board were Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, and Stephanie O’Neal, an island native who is a retired registered nurse and recently moved back to the island.
Tuesday’s action, overturned a decision made at the June meeting when County Commissioner John Fletcher nominated himself and O’Neal to these spots, both of whom were approved at that meeting.
The OCBA realized after this meeting that these two appointments were supposed to have been their recommendations, based on the Occupancy Tax statute.
The terms of the OCBA’s prior appointees, Frank Brown and Clayton Gaskill, were up in July. Fletcher, on his own, had said he’d talked to people and only got an affirmative from O’Neal, and so decided to appoint himself to the other position.
Although the OCBA then requested at the July commissioners’ meeting that these appointments be rescinded and Brown and Gaskill reinstated temporarily, the commissioners declined that action and asked the OCBA to come up with new names.
At its Aug. 10 meeting, the OCBA approved the recommendations of Chestnut and O’Neal, and sent a letter to that effect to the commissioners.
Fletcher was not present at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The Occupancy Tax Board is responsible for distributing to island nonprofits more than $350,000 collected yearly from a 3 percent tax added to island lodging rentals. Each spring, nonprofits make grant requests to the OTB.
The other members on the Occupancy Tax Board, who are appointed for four-year terms, are Trudy Austin, Marlene Mathews and David Styron.
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, Hyde County Emergency Services Director Justin Gibbs said he was pleased at how several private and government agencies, including Tideland EMC, the NC Ferry Division, the National Park Service and the Ocracoke Deputy Control board handled Tropical Storm Hermine.
However, the component that needs to be improved is communication when there is a mandatory evacuation as it was for visitors last week.
Hyde County issued a formal statement of a mandatory visitor evacuation at 6 p.m. last Thursday even though the decision had been made several hours earlier.
After the decision, word leaked out in the community and the Ferry Division in Hatteras stopped visitors from going to Ocracoke prompting many calls to lodging businesses that were unaware of the evacuation declaration.
County Manager Bill Rich praised last week’s excellent team work and Gibbs, who also was honored at the meeting as the Hyde County employee of the month), and also reiterated the need to improve communication for future events.
Ben Simmons, the commissioner from Fairfield Township, said the mainland flooding was a serious issue and better coordination is needed in advance for water pump placement. He also said noted that better education is needed to keep children from playing in contaminated flood water.
Here are some other items from the meeting affecting Ocracoke.
Ocracoke may be getting a new business to handle its trash removal services.
Rich said that he has received many complaints about the convenience center including delays in removing the trash. He said he informed the current business, David’s Trash Service, that the services would be up for bid and that Waste Industries Inc. has expressed interest in taking on the contract. David’s Trash asked to be reconsidered, and the county will study both bids.
Norma Yanez, government contract manager at Waste Industries, Inc., attended Tuesday’s meeting and told the commissioners that that they have experience with trash removal from islands since they have been hauling Bald Island’s trash for the past 17 years. She also said they have new trucks and containers.
Assistant County Manager Kris Noble had a long list of activities to present, most of them dealing with the mainland.
She and Rich will attend the Ocracoke Advisory Planning Board on Thursday (Sept. 15) and the Ocracoke Board of Adjustments on Friday. They are coordinating training for these two boards, both of which have several new members. The Board of Adjustments has five pending variance requests to consider.
Superintendent David Hallac of Cape Hatteras National Seashore briefed the commissioners on several issues affecting Ocracoke.
The firebreak at the boundary between the village and Park Service property will be mowed within the next month.
There is an open comment period for the proposed revisions to the Off-Road Vehicle use rules for Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
In the proposed recommendations, vehicles would have earlier morning access to the beach depending on the time of the year and when NPS staff can survey the beach. The current time is 7 a.m.
The weekly ORV beach permit would increase to 10 days to cover two weekends, and the yearly permit will be based on date-of-purchase rather than the current calendar year system.
People would have two access points to the Pamlico Sound. Bitter Swash Creek near the Pony Pasture will have a parking area and a path for walking to the sound.
Across from the campground, improvements would be made to what is popularly known as Dump Station Road. The Park Service wants it to be referred to as Devil Shoals Road. The road will be improved, have a small parking area at the end, and no off-road permit would be required.
These recommendations are in the public comment stage and the last day for comments is Oct. 21.
Hallac noted that NPS was pleased to assist Ocracoke with the fireworks on Independence Day weekend and several events commemorating the National Park Service’s Centennial.
He also noted a highly successful turtle season with 322 nests within the Park’s boundaries. About 100 are on Ocracoke.
The commissioners approved a resolution to join a complaint by the North Carolina Waterman’s Association and a group of commercial fishermen against the against the restrictions imposed on southern flounder fishing by the NC Marine Fisheries Commission was presented.
Prior to the meeting, retiring Soil and Water Board members Billy Williams and Hiatt Cahoon were honored in a well-attended reception for their long-time service and contributions. They also were thanked at the start of the meeting.