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The Hyde County Commissioners received many letters from Non-Resident Property Owners about restricting them from the island due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but none of the letters/comments were read at the Monday, May 5, Hyde commissioners’ meeting due to the volume of comments. See story here.

During the meeting, Ocracoke’s Commissioner Tom Pahl explained the decision to restrict access. He said non-resident property owners were “just unbelievably generous and helpful following Hurricane Dorian. We would not have been able to recover the way we did without them. We had over 400 people, that’s 40% of our population, who were displaced from that hurricane.”

Many found housing in non-resident property owners’ homes, sometimes for free, sometimes for utilities, he said.

“It was is extremely generous, and it was such an enormous contribution to the recovery that it would be a terrible oversight if we didn’t recognize that,” he said.

Because of that, it was a difficult decision to restrict their access during the COVID-19 pandemic and they aren’t happy about that.

“But it was a decision that our control group recommended,” Pahl said. “It was a decision that I recommended and a decision ultimately, that this board approved and it was the right decision for the same reason–that everybody else was put out, inconvenienced and put out of work and businesses shut down.

“There were so many people that have been hurt in so many ways by the effect of this pandemic. It’s a worldwide pandemic. And millions of people have been hurt and put out by including our non-resident property owners. I apologize for that.”

The Ocracoke Observer is publishing four of the letters sent to the commissioners below.
Dear Ms. Noble and Hyde County Commissioners:
We are Non-Resident Property Owners (NRPOs) on Ocracoke Island. The recent events of Hurricane Dorian and Covid-19 have created incredibly difficult issues for us all. As NRPOs, our difficulties have, unfortunately, been compounded by Hyde County’s distinctions between resident and non-resident property owners.
For example, after Hurricane Dorian, many NRPOs were unable to get to our flooded houses in a timely manner because of Hyde’s NRPO reentry access restrictions. We watched as secondary damage occurred to our properties, while residents were able to begin mitigation of their properties immediately. Allowing one group of property owners to incur added damage and financial hardship seems terribly unfair.
After Dorian, many NRPOs offered our homes to displaced locals. We were happy to do so, knowing that we would eventually be able to complete our repairs and ready our houses for the 2020 season. Obviously, no one expected a pandemic, but because of Hyde’s NRPO reentry access restrictions, we’ve been thwarted there, as well.
Immediately after the hurricane, our insurance company sent multiple adjusters to inspect our property. After allowing for deductibles on wind and flood policies, we ended up with somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 worth of total damage. That figure didn’t account for a new, locally-made picnic table that floated away, trees down on the property, and so on.
None of this damage required a building permit to fix.
We have owned and operated a construction company in Virginia for nearly 30 years. We are very familiar with the permitting and inspecting process. We had no plans (or need) to do any plumbing, HVAC, structural, or other repairs that would require a building permit. So we have had to wait even longer.
Last week we were notified by our property managers that our roof was leaking and water was entering our property. Our management team told us we should apply for a building permit, because that was the only way we could get there to fix it. Otherwise, we would have to hire another contractor to do the work. We sent an email inquiry to the Hyde Planning Dept. and were told that we could get a building permit for a roof repair, even though one would typically not be needed. Staff went on to say that these building permits were more about restricting access to the island, than about needing them for the work.
We printed out and filled out ELEVEN pages of application and mailed it in. A week later we received our building permit in the mail. Then we started the reentry pass permit process, which was to take another week.
No other property owner or business owner in Hyde County would be made to go to these lengths, and through this protracted process, to fix a simple roof leak.
Today, we found out that curbside hurricane debris pick-up will not be offered to NRPOs upon reentry in May. Beyond that, we may not even be able to bring it to the dump. Our tax dollars fund the collection of refuse and the dump, but we can’t access these services. Again, it is suggested that we should hire out for these services.
Throughout this time, Ocracoke leaders and residents have (in varying degrees) painted us as schemers looking to game the system, as greedy and heartless, as neighbors who are more interested in vacationing and running from the virus than the health of people in “their” community. Additionally, there have been some very disturbing public comments about what might happen to us NRPOs if we were to come to the island and get anyone sick.
It has been a shocking and sad turn of events.
Unfortunately, we feel Hyde’s “separate but equal” policies for different property owners have contributed to this vitriol and division.
We understand that Ocracoke is remote and lacking in many resources. We are told this repeatedly to justify the policies which exclude us. While we can’t fix the location issue (and wouldn’t want to), perhaps it is time to do something about the resources issue.
We pay a full tax rate and receive less services—not the least of which is access to our property. Ocracoke Island is not private property. It is not a gated community. If we are not entitled to equal services, perhaps we should not have an equal tax rate.
Similarly, as NRPOs who rent our property to tourists for more than half the year, we generate quite a bit of Occupancy Tax income for the island. We have virtually no say in how this revenue is spent.
It is perhaps time to rethink this system.
We feel it is discriminatory for Hyde County to prohibit access, services, and resources to tax paying property owners based solely on their residency status. Because of this discrimination, we are incurring added hardships and expenses that other property owners (and even residents who do not own property) are not subject to.
Please consider doing away with the resident/non-resident distinctions and allow ALL property owners the same rights and freedoms under Hyde County law.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. 
Sincerely,
Chris Anderson & Betsy Shepard, Surry, Va., and Trent Drive, Ocracoke

Dear Hyde County Board of Commissioners:

My wife and I are NRPO’s on Ocracoke Island. We have owned our home on Ocracoke since 2013, although we have vacationed on the Island since the mid-1970s. We spend seven to eight months a year at our home on Ocracoke and return to Buffalo for the summers. We have been on the island since mid-October. We love the island, the people, the culture and the climate.

I am writing because I am troubled by the division that has developed between some residents, some politicians and some NRPO’s. I have seen firsthand, over the past seven months, the heartbreak of devastation and the hard work of re-construction. Unfortunately, the devastation happens to both permanent and non-permanent residents at the same rate. However, there is a huge difference in the ability for NRPO’s to get the help and opportunity to repair their properties.  There should be no difference between all property owners to get the same help when properties are damaged by the same occurrence.  Dorian did not choose which houses were damaged but local politicians decided who got help and when, to repair them.

We were extremely fortunate at our home and only suffered relatively minor damage to our sheds, trees and fences. After the storm we offered our home to a local family for 6 weeks before we arrived in mid-October. After arrival and seeing the devastation, we donated over $12,000 to local families, businesses, food kitchens and other good causes. We helped whoever or wherever we could. We asked for nothing in return, no free lunches, no cleaning supplies, no generators, no contractor help, no recognition, no nothing. This is our community for the better part of the year, and we help lift it up.

In return,  we get to pay our taxes, get discriminated against, get talked about like we are some breed of creature that flies in on our private jets to frolic in the sand to the detriment of the local community.  We contribute. 

We are not asking for special treatment. We want to be treated the same. We contribute.

We have personally been locked on the Island during the coronavirus crisis because we cannot leave. For some reason, if we leave, we cannot come back on. This is our home. Local residents, contractors, delivery people, and many others can come and go freely, but we cannot.

Why? 

When I have to take the Hatteras ferry to get to my home, I have to wait in line with others that come to the island for a day trip or a vacation. We pay taxes, do we not get that minimal right to a priority pass to get home. Last fall I had to go get a prescription in Hatteras, I had to wait 5 hours in line to get back home. Fair?  Don’t think so. We contribute.

I think it is time for our local leaders to understand the contribution level of the NRPO group. We are not asking for anything that other tax-paying and non-tax paying residents enjoy. 

We contribute!

I think it is a mistake to have the NRPO group angry. It will not accomplish positive results for the community. We are all in this together, you need us, and we need you. Let’s act like it.

Sincerely,

Vinnie Ciancio, Fish Camp Lane, Ocracoke

 

Dear Hyde County Commissioners:
Recent events have certainly been “novel” situations, with a novel viral disease pandemic following the wake of Hurricane Dorian.  These events now in sequence have brought to light once again – and hopefully to the table- major concerns of Non-Resident Property Owners of Hyde County.

These property owners, NRPOs, of which we are part, support Hyde County extensively with property taxes, some with occupancy taxes, and many with funding for nonprofits on the island of Ocracoke such as the Fireman’s Ball/Volunteer Fire Service, and Ocrafolk Festival/Ocracoke Alive.  They are also year-round customers of many of the local businesses on the island.

Some restrictions and a plan of management are certainly required after major disasters, and definitely with the current pandemic.  In the past however, Dorian being the exception, NRPOs have barely been allowed reentry and access to their property before tourists were allowed back in.  It looks as though this is about to be the case once again.

It is so unfortunate that some NRPOs, with damage to their property from Dorian as significant as many permanent residents, were denied access to the huge volume of volunteer labor that we witnessed on the island after the storm.  Yes, by definition, NRPOs have another “home”, but their property on Ocracoke is likely a very large financial investment in a place they have at least some kind of attachment to, once again supporting the economy of both the island and the entire county.

With so many NRPOs concerned about our status, and hurricane season basically upon us, now is the ideal time for the Hyde County Commissioners to address at least some of these issues.  One – Hatteras ferry priority access as a property owner same as a resident of the island.  Two: representation of NRPOs on the decision-making bodies such as the Ocracoke Control Group.  These property owners could then at least be involved in determining restrictions and reentry criteria for themselves as well as tourists.

As a physician and NRPO, I agree that the current pandemic warranted some restrictions, and continues to do so.  However, NRPOs going to their property to “shelter in place,” with restriction on reentry, would have been and would be less of a risk to the island population than many of the permanent residents who have continued non-essential travel off of the island, as well as the off-island contractors not required to remain on the island for projects underway during this time.

We thank you for your time, your efforts, your consideration and implementation of these requests regarding priority Hatteras Ferry access for NRPOs, as well as representation on decision making bodies, as soon as possible.  June 1 is around the corner.
Brenda S. Peacock, M.D., & Jeffrey A. Peacock, Washington, N.C. & Jackson Circle, Ocracoke

 

Dear Ms. Noble and the Hyde County Commissioners:
We are and have been Non-resident Property Owners on Ocracoke for the last fifteen years. The recent restrictions placed upon NRPOs following Hurricane Dorian and on the heels of COVID-19, have made it abundantly clear that Hyde County’s resident/non-resident distinctions are detrimental to our equal rights.

Let us start by saying that we do not understand the reasoning in allowing residents to travel on and off island yet restricting us access to our property. Contractors and suppliers come and go freely, yet we are prevented access to our homes. Additionally, we are required to obtain building permits that are not required of any other resident. Our cottage sustained about 80k in damages. None of this work required a building permit. As of this writing, the work is not complete. We’ve recently hired a company out of Kill Devil Hills who can gain access onto the island and our home, but we are prevented access to meet them there to oversee the work. We would greatly appreciate if you would explain the rationale behind these decisions.

If these restrictions were about fighting the pandemic, you would have shut the island down. As it turns out, you only shut the NRPOs out. We see no NRPO designation on our tax bill. We pay the same property tax rate as residents. We want the same equal rights as resident property owners. If we are not entitled to the same rights, why are we paying the same taxes?

We see this same discriminatory practice play out after every hurricane. We are denied the same access given to resident property owners. Why is one property owner’s home more important than another?

After Hurricane Dorian, we were denied access. This time the ramifications of the restrictions were more devastating. It was not only inconvenient; it resulted in additional loss, a loss that we had to shoulder disproportionally. There was no free help available to us, yet you set into place directives that compounded our struggle. There were no provisions made to allow us to bring friends or family onto the island to assist with muck outs and tear outs. If our helpers, tools and supplies didn’t fit in our vehicles we were out of luck. There was no consideration given to the hardships that we were struggling with alone. Meanwhile, benevolence groups from all over the East Coast descended upon the island to assist locals. Since we received almost no actual assistance, we would have appreciated a little consideration. We got neither.

These inequalities don’t stop there. As taxpaying property owners why are we not given the same priority with ferry loading as residents, many of which do not even own property? We often times find ourselves sitting in ferry lines for hours to access our homes. Our family is on the island for most of the entire summer season. We cannot make a trip off island to get supplies or food without it becoming an all-day affair.  It’s almost certain that those off island trips will require an additional four-hour window at the very least. On two different occasions last winter, a wait in the ferry line leaving Ocracoke lasted for three hours; three times being bumped from loading. A trip back to Maryland is an eight-hour drive and must be scheduled to accommodate nighttime driving difficulties. On two different occasions it became necessary to return to the cottage in Ocracoke, to try again the next day. This is patently unfair.

If a distinction between resident and non-resident property owners had not been made from the outset, the discord between these two groups might not exist today. It’s pretty straight forward and simple. We are all taxpaying property owners and should be afforded the same rights and freedoms under the law.

We ask that the Board of Commissioners afford us those same rights and freedoms granted to residents.
Sincerely,
Cheri Larsen & Jeff Larsen

4 COMMENTS

  1. Sincere thanks to the Peacocks, the Larsens, Mr. Ciancio, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Shepard, for these detailed and persuasive letters.

  2. This is a link to the photo of my truck, post Dorian.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/LpMU4psf5fG9R47r8

    I sat in line, arriving at midnight the day that Hyde allowed NRPO’s back onto the island, post Dorian. My truck was outfitted with 2 generators, 35 gallons of ethanol free gasoline.

    A full contingency of battery operated tools. Enough food for two weeks, and 5 gallons of potable water. All manner of mold remediation chemicals and cleaning supplies. An internet hotspot, in addition to my 4G connection via cellphone. Chainsaws, rakes, shovels and the like for unknown tree debris. Everything carefully fit and stacked in a mid-sized 2005 Nissan Xterra

    The afternoon of the county’s decision to lift the order, we responded to a request to house a local family at our home on Cabana Drive. The only contingency required that I have one bedroom available to stay in the home during repairs, with the kitchen/living rooms set as common areas, and the upstairs of the home reserved for the family and their children.

    I was the first truck on the island the day after the order was lifted. The parking lot at Hatteras behind the ferry office had been turned into an emergency meal delivery unit for the emergency workers arriving in the area. As I slept on a ground mat next to my front tire (shadow side) I could hear the generators powering the unit as volunteers arrived throughout the morning.

    When I arrived on the island, I wasn’t prepared for the devastation. It was indescribable, and assaulted every sense. The overwhelming smell of sewage, mixed with sea water and gasoline/diesel fuel. PIles of debris visually extending for hundreds of yards in every direction. Children’s toys, clothes, personal effects and photos strewn across lawns in the sunshine.

    No power. Unsafe water. Every emergency vehicle and organization imaginable, with flashing blue and yellow and orange lights moving through the intersections.

    Cars. And trucks, and buses piled alongside the roads. Flooded into death, motionless and immobile. Strewn at angles up along fencelines and walls of buildings.

    I drove past the stop sign next to the Coffee Shop and took note of where the water had touched the octagon about a week earlier. The water line, were the photo to be believed, would reach halfway up my windshield. I imagined how Donna Driling could have swam from her blue corner house to her sister Martha’s house in that water, on that day. The shock and fear she must have felt.

    Everyone on the island was clearly traumatized. I was broken inside, in tears. A 48 year old man, looking out through blurred moist eyes at the people in their yards, walking and working in a mutual daze. Homeless. Penniless. Hungry.

    No one should have been allowed on the island in those early days, who was not already on that island, or providing the desperate emergency services that were required those days. Ocracoke was a war zone, on par with a third world country. Having served on multiple mission trips to the most desperate of areas in remote India, I could attest to and immediately identify that absolute lack of resources.

    Help was available.

    Help was always available at the firehouse. Or from neighbors. Newly introduced and long time friend alike. My business partner spent 10 hours a day taking his Bobcat skid steer from home to home, cutting large ancient cedar trees free from their exposed roots, and pulling the trunks back to the road. He fixed a flat every day, requiring 1-2 hours per repair. His electrical system shorted out, and still – he repaired it and helped anyone who had need. TH Miller, similarly going from house to house and cutting trees for anyone who had need. In the throngs of the organized chaos, if you needed help – you required a loud voice, and a willingness to stand in line and get clear answers. Always remembering that the volunteers who were helping people in front of you, were in all likelihood homeless, without power, water, heat, insurance, or income.

    Anyone who needed help, could get help. Anyone who needed contractors to get to their home, could get those contractors to their homes with the assistance of Theresa Adams, whom I personally observed instructing other NRPO’s on the phone as to the procedures for onboarding and verifying contractors. As proof of this, I observed my NR neighbors home had a crew onsite, pulling out sheetrock and insulation within days of my arrival.

    Insurance adjusters came within a week of our arrival, and expeditiously inspected the homes and submitted reports quickly.

    Information was being shared on the NRPO FB page, directing people when required who to speak with, what to expect upon arrival, as well as phone numbers of landed NRPO’s who were (like myself) willing to go to another NRPO’s home and inspect the property for them.

    When the pandemic arrived, we understood based on our experience post-Dorian on island, that the control group was best equipped to understand the public health requirements of locals and make decisions accordingly.

    We understood that Governor Cooper had implemented a state travel ban for non-essential travel, and that legally construction crews were delegated as essential workers. Our only confusion centered on the control group’s policy shift, requiring a building permit for the second round of NRPO re-entries. I publicly stated on the NRPO FB group that Mr. Pahl’s description of NRPO’s “gaming” the permit process created (in my opinion) an unnecessary implication that the majority of the arrivals were using loop holes to shelter-in-place-in-paradise.

    Concurrent to that, we couldn’t understand how an NRPO home that received Dorian damage in September, had not had its critical issues addressed by March, some 6 months afterwards.

    Hyde County’s decisions ran concurrent to every vacation community across the country, and were no more, or less acute than those in other communities along the western and eastern coasts.

    Having seen the island post-Dorian firsthand, we had no desire to drain any resources from the locals, or be a burden in the event we contracted Covid-19 and required emergency medical assistance.

    We understood that many people were asymptomatic for weeks, and that the medical community was (and still is) uncertain about many aspects of the virus, including transmission means and identifiable symptoms. That the small DOT ferry staff was ill equipped to take people’s temperature in Swan Quarter, or at Cedar Island. It was best to stay home, and obey the statewide travel restrictions.

    Yes, we do pay taxes.

    But many of us also receive incomes from these homes. Our second, dry, and mold free homes.

    There is a tremendous conceptual disparity between a local who earns a majority of their income from tips or 4 months of business sales, and us.

    It is a privilege to be any part of this community, and allow someone whose business requires they travel to Hatteras to pass us in line at the ferry. Someone who has a doctor’s appointment, to go ahead of us…considering that a ferry may be cancelled due to winds in excess of 25 mph, or surging tides…further inconveniencing them.

    I believe that the overwhelming majority of NRPO’s agree in that sense, and their experiences align with these opinions and observations. I suppose I don’t believe these letters represent that majority, across the hundreds of island NR’s. Most made do from my observations, and worked amicably inside the framework afforded to us at the time.

    It has been an unprecedented year of unimaginable events…requiring patience, ingenuity, and most of all community. No one person or group could make decisions that appeased everyone, 100%.

    In retrospect, I believe the provisions afforded NRPO’s were and are fair, and strike a required balance for us to coexist in a patch of sand with limited resources, two feet above sea level, surrounded by ever rising waters.

    This was the year of nightmares, and I for one am glad to see it go by. When the ferry crosses with NRPO’s on May 11th, I will be back, grateful, with my 2005 Nissan Xterra loaded and ready to do what’s required in this special place,

    • As was pointed out to you previously, many NRPOs didn’t have their repairs made earlier because they were things like felled trees and missing back stairs. Things that didn’t necessarily make the homes uninhabitable, but did make them unrentable. Thus, many chose to allow our homes to be fully used by volunteers/workers and displaced locals from September to April, anticipating that we’d do our remaining repairs closer to rental season. Again, this was explained to you the last time you tried to shame the other NRPOs. The fact that YOU chose to make your rental only partially available for only a couple or three months doesn’t mean you’re better and smarter than other NRPOs that chose to give sacrificially.

  3. I am a long time visitor and read both sides of the argument. Anyone describing the horrific experiences locals went through after Dorian could make the NRPO’s arguments seem petty in comparison and that is unfair. One thing to remember is that for Dorian, it was a mandatory evacuation, locals stay either because there is no where to go or it is such an ordeal to get back on island. Thankfully, everyone was safe. You are all Ocracoke property owners and taxpayers and should have equal treatment regarding the issues described in the letters or at least have your concerns properly addresses. As a visitor, I may not have the joys (and at times the hardships) of living on the island but I contribute to the businesses and should be respected as well. Respect and concern for all! On that note, let’s all have a great and prosperous year!

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