As the year closes, we look at some of the top newsworthy events that impacted Ocracoke.
Ferry service stabilized and state Rep. Paul Tine departs
The North Carolina Ferry Service is the lifeline for Ocracoke. A longer Hatteras route, cancellations due to shoaling and bad weather and mechanical breakdowns all cause stress for islanders and their businesses.
Looming like dark clouds, inadequate funding by the state legislature the last several years has caused stress, and the threat of charging a fee for the Hatteras/Ocracoke line has been on and off the table.
Thanks primarily to the efforts of two N.C. House legislators, Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) and John A. Torbett (R-Gaston), money was approved for infrastructure, repairs of the aging fleet and a yearly appropriation to replace old ferries. All of this was done without imposing a new toll or raising existing tolls. There also is adequate funding for the passenger ferry service expected to begin in 2018.
Tine did not run for re-election, opting to spend more time with his family. We understand his reasons, but Ocracoke will greatly miss him. At 45, he is still young and we hope to see him in other public service roles.
Ocracoke’s new state House representative will be Republican Beverly Boswell (Kitty Hawk), who won the election three days after Democratic candidate Warren Judge of Kill Devil Hills died unexpectedly.
Hurricane Matthew and the Great Flood of 2016
“Seems like we are having the storm of the century every few years these days,” was a quip by a politician at the time Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast in 2012. Just about every year since 20110, a major storm has impacted Ocracoke.
Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 8 and 9 delivered one of the worst floods in memory causing a four-foot, seven-inch storm surge, flooding many buildings, totaling dozens of vehicles and shutting down the island for almost two weeks.
A month earlier, Tropical Storm Hermine also shut down the island for several days. Fortunately, no lives were lost in either of these storms, but the loss of business hurt.
Whether these storms are a result of climate change or just a weather pattern, here is one perspective. Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, a late-October event created to bring visitors to the island at one the best times of the year, took three years to initially take place. Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy canceled the first two scheduled events. Three consecutive festivals took place, though one of them was touch-and-go when a predicted storm held off for the day only to bring 60 mph winds later in the night. Matthew caused another cancellation, now making a tied score: Hurricanes 3, Pirates 3.
Ocracoke gets a new county commissioner
Ocracoke, like elsewhere, was not immune to the stresses of national, state and local politics. Bucking a red tide, Ocracoke gave two-thirds of its votes to Hillary Clinton. One could hear a pin drop, was a quip heard about the “nasty women pants suit” election night party at the Ocracoke Oyster Co.
We lament the gerrymandering in the state that gives politicians so many safe seats and hurts the democratic process. Ocracoke also bucked the tide when Tom Pahl beat incumbent John Fletcher in the March primary for the Ocracoke Township as county commissioner.
Pahl was sworn in on Dec. 5 and joins four other commissioners who will vote on many issues affecting Ocracoke. We wish him well and are pleased at his efforts to get feedback and encourage islanders to get involved.
We urge folks to attend the monthly commissioner’s meetings, the first Monday of the month, at 6 p.m. via the videoconferencing that has been at Ocracoke School but in January will move to the Community Center.
This is your government, and if you have comments, concerns, complaints, this is the body to which those concerns should be addressed.
Fireworks return to the island
Professional fireworks returned for the first time since 2009. That year, Ocracoke reeled when the explosives detonated during unloading killing four fireworks company employees. This year’s show got mostly rave reviews and there were few complaints about their return. Fireworks happened thanks to the support of the OCBA, Occupancy Tax Board, the National Park Service and the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department.
Rip current drownings
While the top story of 2015 was the shark attack that occurred on July 1 at the Lifeguard Beach, there were no shark attacks this year.
Far more dangerous than the rare shark bites are rip currents and two people drowned on the island this summer in addition to six others along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This was a particularly dangerous year for rips on the Outer Banks, and warnings and information on how to stay safe were frequent
Ocracoke gets a new festival
Ocracoke is known for its music scene. The Ocrafolk Festival that takes place in early June since 2000 draws many visitors and outstanding performers.
Ocracoke Alive, which produces this event, this year added the Festival Latino de Ocracoke the second Saturday in November.
The dancing, music, cooking and dancing classes and food made this first festival a success.
Alfredo (Freddy) Contreras, Dave Tweedie and the many others who worked on this event deserve praise for their good work.
For a related 2016 news recap up Hatteras way, click here to read the Island Free Press’s blog.