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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cheri Larsen & Jeff Larsen