For Ocracoke news, click here.
By Connie Leinbach
A public Occupancy Tax Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Community Center to discuss a Hyde County request to seek $200,000 from occupancy tax funds to pay for the operating costs of a village tram system in conjunction with the proposed passenger ferry.
Hyde County Commissioner Tom Pahl, who represents Ocracoke and asked for the meeting, said the meeting will allow for comments and discussion with islanders.
Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, Kris Noble, assistant Hyde County manager and county planner, and Beverly Paul, Hyde County Transit director, will attend.
“This is the ground transportation piece of the passenger ferry operation where the tram would be the responsibility of Hyde County Transit,” Pahl said recently in an interview. “I strongly encourage everyone who is interested in how the tram system might affect them, their business and the village to attend this meeting.”
Pahl explained that despite the N.C. General Assembly appropriating $3.6 million last year specifically for a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Silver Lake and the receipt of a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant of $7 million that would include the building of one passenger ferry and covering the costs of a village tram system, the county would be on the hook to pay for the operating costs of a tram system.
At the Sept. 8, 2015, Hyde County Commissioners meeting, Rich reported that the N.C. Ferry Division has applied for and received the FLAP grant for Ocracoke and Hatteras Island infrastructure associated with the proposed addition of a passenger ferry service to the car ferry fleet at Hatteras Inlet.
Among the proposed changes on Ocracoke would be docking areas, a tram service for the village and a passenger shelter with restrooms, Rich said.
According to the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration website, the FLAP “was established in 23 U.S.C. 204 to improve transportation facilities that provide access to, are adjacent to, or are located within Federal lands. The Access Program supplements state and local resources for public roads, transit systems, and other transportation facilities, with an emphasis on high-use recreation sites and economic generators.”
To view that website, click here.
“But that (federal) grant is only for capital expenditures, not for operating costs,” Pahl said.
A state Passenger Ferry Feasibility study done in 2015 and released in June last year recommends two 100-passenger ferries making eight round-trips a day between Hatteras and Ocracoke Village at a cost of $15 per round trip.
Once a contract to build such a ferry is approved and awarded, the building of a boat (for 80 to 150 passengers) for Ocracoke would take 18 months to two years.
The idea of a passenger ferry was floated after Ed Goodwin was appointed Ferry Division director in April 2014 and the short ferry route between Ocracoke and Hatteras was deemed unnavigable after hurricanes Irene and Sandy added more shoaling to the Hatteras Inlet.
The U.S. Coast Guard formally established a longer route (about one-hour crossing) between the islands in 2014.
Goodwin was let go from this position Jan. 31 and Deputy Director Jed Dixon was named interim director.
To read about one meeting on the island about the passenger ferry, click here.
To view the passenger ferry study, click here.
This looks to me like a great opportunity to make a step into the future. There are several companies building small electric driver-less buses. The Ocracoke tram would be a great place to run them, allow the developers to increase their operational database, and get some outside investment in the system for the island. Olli by Local Motors of Phoenix is probably the first US company with some brand recognition. Currently, autonomy work in the US is primarily focused on cars while more focus on buses and trucks is occurring in Europe and Asia.
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