Shooting The Breeze


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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More thoughts on Hatteras Inlet, sales tax, gas prices, etc.

Friday 21 August 2015 at 4:52 pm

It's time to catch up with some of the issues that we in the news business have been covering for much of this year, beginning with the dire state of Hatteras Inlet.


The county's southernmost inlet took a back seat for much of this year as officials scrambled to find short- and long-term funding for the dredging at Oregon Inlet.  Hatteras Inlet users watched and waited as the Coast Guard shut down Oregon Inlet to most vessels and county officials squabbled over where to get the money to fix the shoaling problem.

At one point earlier this year, the Dare Board of Commissioners wanted to merge its two advisory panels on inlet issues -- The Oregon Inlet Task Force and the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission.  That idea didn't fly since the task force members made it clear they weren't the least bit interested in Hatteras Inlet's problems.

One commissioner warned at a board meeting that "We are all one Dare County...and we'd better start acting like it."

However, Oregon Inlet Task Force members made it clear that Hatteras islanders could form their own task force to solve their own inlet problems. They said they were close to getting the funds they needed for Oregon Inlet, and basically, they didn't want to waste time and energy on any other county waterways.

The Commissioners decided to keep both panels with the Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission widening its mission to focus more on Hatteras Inlet.

As it turned out, that was a wise move because conditions at Hatteras Inlet have rapidly deteriorated over the summer -- until the shoaling has become both dire and devastating for the economy and for public safety.

Local commercial and recreational watermen are having to carefully feel their way through a shoaled-up inlet, risking damage to their boats. Visiting boaters haven't a clue as to how to get in and out of the inlet and are reduced to following the local boats.  And the Coast Guard is barely able to get its boats out for search and rescue missions.

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Park Service hears more from public on ORV plan changes

Friday 14 August 2015 at 3:48 pm

The National Park Service has just finished another round of public scoping meetings on possible changes to its off-road-vehicle management plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Legislation passed by Congress last December as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill instructed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a public process to consider the modifications.

Under the leadership of a new seashore superintendent, David Hallac, who arrived here the first of the year, the Park Service has already accomplished some of what Congress mandated.

Last spring, NPS began an Environmental Assessment of modifications to the plan's buffers to protect nesting birds and turtles.  The EA was completed in June, and seashore officials are in the process of implementing them.

The legislation also instructed the Park Service to construct new ORV access ramps, roads, and parking lots as expeditiously as possible.  Earlier this year, Hallac announced a reprioritized list of projects, most of which are already underway.

The most recent round of meetings was to address the final portion of the legislation, which instructs the seashore to conduct a public process to consider changes to hours that the beaches open in the morning, dates for seasonal ORV routes, and locations of vehicle-free areas (VFAs).

In addition, seashore officials decided to consider changes to the length of time that ORV permits are valid and access improvements.

A total of 175 people attended five meetings -- in Buxton, Ocracoke, Kitty Hawk, Raleigh, and Hampton.  That's almost exactly the same number who attended the public scoping meetings on the buffer modifications last May.

Hallac gave an overview of the scoping process. He explained that changes to such things as permits, VFAs, times and seasonal closures of ORV routes involve changes to the ORV final regulation -- as opposed to buffer modifications that are not spelled out in the final rule.

Changing the final rule, he has said, is a more time consuming and somewhat more complicated process.

The beginning of the process for the Park Service is the public comment process, during which seashore officials are soliciting ideas and input from seashore users for changing the parts of the rule covered by the legislation.

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Raleigh reloads but still aims to take sales taxes from Dare

Friday 07 August 2015 at 5:26 pm

Counties, including Dare, that would be economically devastated by the state Senate's plan to change the way the state distributes the local option sales tax stepped up their opposition this week with news conferences, web postings, and e-mail alerts.

As the week wore on, the Senate blinked, but it refused to totally ditch the redistribution plan.

On Wednesday, Senate leaders announced that they would more or less go along with opposition from the House and the governor and take some policy issues, including the sales tax plan, out of the budget.

This will make it easier for all factions -- now very far apart in their visions -- to pass the long overdue state budget.

However, proponents of the sales tax redistribution, led by Republican Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County, took the plan and wrote it into the House's economic development plan, NC Competes, which is House Bill 117.

The bill sailed through committee in the Senate by week's end and is up for a final vote in the Senate on Monday.

If it passes the Senate, it will go back to the House, which has generally been resistant to redistribution.

Now the question is whether the House -- and the governor who threatened to veto the budget if the sales tax plan was in it -- will look more favorably on it as part of its economic development goals.

If it doesn't, the bill would go to a conference committee of the two chambers.

Dare County leaders have fought tooth-and-nail to defeat the sales tax plan, and today they continued the fight with a plea for all Dare County citizens and those who own investment or retirement property here to contact state lawmakers and take a stand against HB 117.

Brown and other Senate leaders who support the redistribution say it is a more fair and equitable way to distribute the local option part of the state sales tax -- which is 2 cents on the dollar.

It is now distributed 75 percent based on point of sale and 25 percent on population. This, Republican leaders say -- hurts smaller and poorer rural counties and benefits larger counties that are commercial centers.

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