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Ocracoke does not fit nicely into larger state issues, and there seems to be an endless need to point that out to those in Raleigh who make decisions (often with undue haste) that can negatively impact a small, remote-island community.
For example, many islanders have put in countless hours in the last several years to keep the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry route toll-free.
This hard work succeeded in 2016 in convincing both Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly to leave that route as it was intended when ferry operations began in the 1950s.
That’s not to say the tolling won’t be back.
Among other challenges for Ocracoke is keeping the Hatteras Inlet viable. The Ocracoke Waterways Commission for the last year has worked on trying to find a way to cut the hour-long ride down by even several minutes since the short route kept filling in. If only Mother Nature could cooperate.
Ocracoke was recently successful in pointing out the repercussions 11th-hour lawmaking would have on it.
Two recent issues illustrate this.
In the last days of the short session that ended June 30, legislators scurried to try to pass a shellfish aquaculture bill to expand shellfish leases in the Pamlico Sound.
Although there are good points in this bill, most of the members of the North Carolina Shellfish Growers Association decried the potential for out-of-state and international companies to purchase large leases in the state and urged not to rush.
Devil Shoals Oyster and Clam Company and the Woccocon Oyster Co. are two shellfish-growing businesses owned by islanders. The owners wrote letters and attended meetings to voice their real concerns that the bill, as written, had the potential to crush this nascent industry. (See story here.)
Their efforts halted the fast-track legislation and may be revisited in the next session. Hopefully, all of the concerns expressed by the many opponents will be considered so that small oyster farms won’t be pushed out of business.
Another law that did pass in this year’s short session mandated that all early voting precincts wishing to have early one-stop voting must be open for 17 days from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. up to the last Friday before the Nov. 6 election.
Ocracoke has traditionally had two days of early voting. Seventeen days of early voting on Ocracoke for the slightly more than 800 registered voters are not necessary.
Prior to the May primary, only 13 islanders voted during the two early voting days. In the 2016 general election, 248 islanders opted for early voting.
The early voting law, SB 325, was amended, in large part, to make the last Saturday available. But many rural counties, including Hyde County’s elections director, Viola Williams, voiced concerns over the costs and staffing challenges this would create.
Ocracoke became a rallying cry to amend the law, and another bill passed that exempted Ocracoke from this real burden. (See story here.)
If you read the final law, HB 335, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, you won’t see Ocracoke specifically mentioned.
Rather, you will see a provision that allows flexibility in the mandated early voting hours for a county if:
(1) It has permanent inhabitation of residents residing in an unincorporated area.
(2) It is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by a coastal sound.
(3) It contains either a National Wildlife Refuge or a portion of a National Seashore.
(4) It has no bridge access to the mainland of the county and is only accessible by marine vessel.
So, Ocracoke will have its two days of early voting Oct. 25 and 26 prior to the Nov. 6 election, But HB 335 applies only to this next election. In two years, who knows how early voting will be set.
These two examples demonstrate that it is possible to voice concerns and have an effect.
Unfortunately, in Raleigh these days, there is often a lack of debate and laws, sometimes drafted by outside interests, are hastily passed without sufficient public input.
This is an election year. Decisions made by the General Assembly can have major impacts on Ocracoke.
Voters in November will choose who will represent the island in both the state House and Senate. Voters should press candidates to seek and consider their potential constituents’ views on important legislative issues.
Once elected, the reps should visit the island to meet residents.
We are a deeply divided society.
We would love to see politicians actually lead and work together, and not just follow the money or the party line.