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Shooting The Breeze

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Hi, and welcome to my "Editor's Blog"! In this space I'll be attempting to keep our readers informed on fast-breaking news and issues affecting our islands. Visit often. There's a lot going on!

Enjoy the Island Free Press and, even more importantly, enjoy our wonderful barrier island!!!

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NPS response to legislation begins to take shape

Friday 27 February 2015 at 6:49 pm

In a conference call with reporters this week, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac shared more details on how exactly the National Park Service intends to comply with legislation passed by Congress in December that would make some modifications in the seashore's Off-Road Vehicle Plan.

The conference call was the first media roundtable meeting with Hallac for local reporters.  The superintendent and the media have been meeting somewhat regularly since Mike Murray arrived to lead the seashore almost 10 years ago. The meetings are usually in person, but, because of the weather, this one was by phone.

The discussion, as usual, covered a variety of topics in response to questions posed by the reporters who participated. However, right now what most folks in and out of the media want to know about is the plan for dealing with the legislation, which was passed between the time Hallac was selected for the superintendent's job and the day he reported for work the first of the year.

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The effort to save the Rodanthe Pier

Friday 20 February 2015 at 5:58 pm

Almost all of us who have vacationed in coastal North Carolina -- or other places on the East Coast, for that matter -- have fond memories of the old, wooden fishing piers.

They are wonderful places, especially for families. For a reasonable fee, a family can spend a day fishing during the annual beach vacation.  It's a great introduction to fishing, both for adults and youngsters.

Fishing piers are a great place to meet people -- to pick up fishing tips or just chat. There's a camaraderie among those who fish the piers regularly.

And, even if you don't fish, the pier is a popular place to visit.  For about $2, you can go "sightseeing" for as long as you like on most fishing piers.  Many of us probably remember evenings at the pier with the family -- watching the sunset or the stars, perhaps eating ice cream purchased from the pier house.

Now those old wooden piers are becoming an endangered attraction along the coast. The years and coastal storms have not been kind to them.

Hatteras Island had three fishing piers for about a half century but is now down to just two -- and one of them is threatened.

The Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, known to all as the Frisco Pier, had been badly damaged by hurricanes and northeasters when it was sold by its owners to the National Park Service in 2013.  The Park Service intends to tear down the pier, which is now so badly beat up that it is nothing but a dangerous nuisance.

The owners, Tod and Angie Gaskill, said at the time that they didn't want to sell the pier.

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Bonner Bridge negotiations: Out of sight, but not out of mind

Friday 13 February 2015 at 5:34 pm

I was hoping this week to shed more light on the request that the parties to the ongoing legal battle over replacing the Bonner Bridge made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Monday.

After five months of trying to negotiate a settlement that would end a lawsuit by environmental advocacy groups over the North Carolina Department of Transportation's plan for a new bridge, the parties have now asked the Fourth Circuit to allow them to enter into the court's mediation program.

However, here it is Friday, and I am still at a loss to find any way to shed any more light on the situation.

I have no idea what this means -- other than those of us who live on Hatteras Island or own property here or love to visit here will go forward still not knowing when or if we will have a very badly needed new bridge or a reliable highway.

Here we are more than four years after DOT issued its record of decision on how to replace the bridge and we seem to be no closer to a new one.

It has been almost four years since Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a law suit in federal court against DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

It has been 16 months since U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan ruled in favor of DOT and FHWA. And it has been 16 months since SELC, on behalf of its clients, appealed that decision to the Fourth Circuit.

It has been six months since the Appeals Court issued its decision, which affirmed part of the lower court's decision and denied another part, sending that part back to Flanagan to reconsider.

And it's been five months since DOT and SELC announced they were negotiating a settlement to the legal dispute.

Let's also note that it's also been five months since work stopped on a permanent bridge over the inlet cut through the refuge by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  While the crews and equipment are idle, we continue to have to dodge ocean overwash at times to get to the temporary bridge at that site.

The parties have been pursuing a settlement on their own, and they have been true to their word that they would be making no public statements or comments until the negotiations end in a settlement or an impasse.

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A Cautionary Tale

Friday 06 February 2015 at 4:14 pm

This is the story of another national seashore -- Point Reyes north of San Francisco -- because what has happened there is something that we need to be aware of as we work with the National Park Service to implement new legislation passed by Congress in December.

The new legislation would make some changes to the Park Service Off-Road Vehicle Plan to give the public more reasonable access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Bill, the legislation instructs the Secretary of the Interior to review and adjust wildlife protection buffers, keep them in place the shortest possible duration, designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around resource closures, and confer with the state of North Carolina on certain buffers and protections.

It also makes other modifications to the final ORV plan, such as conducting a public process to consider such changes as the earlier opening of beaches that are closed at night during the summer, extending seasonal ORV routes in the fall and spring, and modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas.

This legislation has the potential to be very significant in the struggle for  reasonable public access, but it also gives the Department of the Interior and the Park Service some cover if agency officials decide they don't want to make alterations to the plan.

Congress instructs the Park Service to make changes "in accordance with peer-reviewed science."

And here's where Point Reyes National Seashore becomes instructional.

Point Reyes National Seashore, designated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, is located about 30 miles north of San Francisco in Marin County.  It encompasses 150 square miles of spectacular scenery that includes 80 miles of undeveloped shoreline, 150 miles of trails to and through beaches, headlands, estuaries, forests and historic landmarks.

Although, unlike Cape Hatteras, there are no towns or villages in the seashore, there are working farms and ranches on park land.  And until recent years, the park and the community apparently co-existed somewhat peacefully.

This is the tale of one of those working farms -- an oyster farm -- located at one of the seashore's most ecologically important estuaries, Drakes Estero, where oysters had been farmed for at least 80 years.

The farm, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, was forced to close at the end of last year after a long and nasty battle with the Department of the Interior and environmental advocacy groups.

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