A tranquil Ocracoke harbor. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Connie Leinbach

Six unmoored boats in Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor will be dealt with, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said the county commissioners monthly meeting Jan. 9.

Rich said four more unattended boats dragged away from their anchor spots in addition to the two that became unmoored in October.

“Two sunk and four others are on other people’s properties,” Rich said.

He received a bid of $7,000 from Darren Burrus to get rid of four them, but Rich said he needs to find funding to pay for this and will report on this at the February meeting.

“The county needs to take responsibility to get rid of these boats,” he said.

He said at a previous meeting that there is state grant money for this kind of thing but he needs to discover what’s available.

Rich said in an interview on Saturday that the Cape Hatteras National Seashore will take the steps to declare the four boats at their docks derelict and remove them.

“(David) Hallac and Ed Fuller are on top of it,” he said about the Seashore superintendent and Ocracoke’s park ranger supervisor. Once everything is in place, Burrus will crush the boats and haul away the debris.

Owner records are elusive or nonexistent, Rich said.

“They ought to be thankful we’re not charging them,” he said about the owners. Charging liens against owners is a remedy other coastal municipalities have adopted.

The Ocracoke Waterways Commission is in the process of devising regulations for the long-term anchoring of boats. They will continue this discussion at the Jan. 29 meeting.

As for the passenger ferry, Rich also said the county does not have the money to pay for the projected operating costs of a tram system on the island in conjunction with the advent of passenger ferry service, which is expected to be operational later this year.

He said he will ask the state to fund it and/or come up with suggestions.

Ocracoke’s Commissioner Tom Pahl reported that he wants to have a job fair on the island for mainland people to learn about jobs here.

He said that since Donald Trump became president, the rules for hiring foreign workers have changed. Of course, housing is always an issue for off-island workers, he said, and he would not expect mainlanders to ride the ferry back and forth each day.

Pahl wants the job fair to be just for mainland residents for now.

Earl Pugh Jr., commissioner chair, told Pahl to pick a date, which Pahl said would be in late January or early February, but that hasn’t been decided.

“It’s worth a try,” Pugh said, “though I don’t know how much interest there will be.”

In other news, the commissioners approved appropriating $60,000 to match $30,000 for the next fiscal year to the six volunteer fire departments in the county, or $240,000 total.  Rich said each company has to come up with an expense budget for how they will spend the $40,000 each would receive. Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department is among this group of recipients.

The commissioners tabled until the Feb. 5 meeting a request from J. W. and Kathy G. Spencer, who live on the mainland, for the county to be a conduit for a $540,611 grant over two years from the state Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.  J. W. Spencer is the elected chair of the Hyde County Soil and Water Board.

Speaking for that board, none of whom attended the meeting, Daniel Brin, a Hyde County employee and a former employee of Soil and Water, said Spencer, applied to receive the grant for a conservation easement on 210 acres of his Farm X land to keep it as farmland in perpetuity.

An example of Hyde County farm land. Photo by Pat Garber

“It couldn’t be developed for any other purpose,” Brin said.

Brin said the grant comes through the state Department of Agriculture and that the state can’t pay individuals. So, Hyde County would be a pass-through for the Spencers to receive this money.

When approved, Hyde County also would receive $30,000 as a “stewardship” to monitor that the land would remain as farmland.

Commissioner Benjamin Simmons questioned the county approving the request, noting that other private property owners in the past had not gotten this opportunity to receive such a gift.

“Are we going to allow one private property owner to do this and not others?” he asked.  “I’m happy for this, but it pisses me off.”

Rich explained that the state used to have a program that paid property owners to turn their farmland into wildlife refuge land, which changes the value of the land. 

This is what Simmons’ father, Jamin, had done several years ago with some of his land, he said.

A Department of Agriculture’s press release last fall said the fund has a $1.7 million for the next two fiscal years.

 “The trust fund seeks to foster the growth, development and sustainability of family farms by supporting projects that encourage the preservation of qualifying agricultural, horticultural and forest lands,” the release quotes Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler as saying.

According to the release, grants can be awarded to secure agricultural conservation easements on lands used for agricultural production; to support public and private enterprise programs that promote profitable and sustainable agricultural, horticultural and forestland activities; and for the development of agricultural plans.

Documents from the trust show that farmland preservation grants throughout the state range from $5,000 to $1.2 million.

Rich said this request was added to the agenda late Tuesday afternoon.

Rich said about 75 to 80 percent of the land in mainland Hyde is farmland.

After more discussion the commissioners agreed to ask the Soil and Water board to attend the February meeting.






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