A pivotal point for Park Service and access advocates - Shooting The Breeze

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The State of Hatteras… | Home | An update on the Bonn…

A pivotal point for Park Service and access advocates

Friday 24 April 2015 at 3:19 pm.

A year ago, most advocates for more reasonable public access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches were more or less resigned to the fact that there would not be changes to the 2012 Off-Road Vehicle Plan until a five-year review in 2017.

Efforts over more than five years to change the plan legislatively had gone nowhere in the U.S. Congress.

A lawsuit by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) to stop the plan failed last June when federal Judge Terrence Boyle -- to no one's surprise -- ruled in favor of the National Park Service, writing in his opinion that the federal government had followed all laws and met all regulatory requirements when formulating the final ORV regulation.

Then came a surprising turn of events. Right after Thanksgiving, in a rush to finish its work before Christmas, the lame duck Congress attached a package of public lands and energy bills to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act -- a "must pass" piece of legislation.

Included in the package was legislation that instructs the Secretary of the Interior to make some changes to the ORV plan and to report back to Congress on those changes. Chief among the instructions given the Secretary was to review and analyze wildlife protection buffers, make sure they are of the shortest duration, and cover the smallest area necessary, and to designate pedestrian and ORV corridors around the buffers.

The buffers -- their size and their duration -- have been the most contentious part of the ORV plan and have been the reason for what many consider to be excessive beach closures during the nesting season.

The legislation was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President before Christmas and became the first order of business for the seashore's new superintendent, David Hallac, when he arrived in late December.

The seashore was required to report back to Congress by June 16 on the buffers and corridors part of the legislation and by the end of the year on the rest.

Hallac admits that the Congressional mandate wasn't exactly the welcome he had expected, but he and his staff set to work to figure out how to do what Congress has ordered "in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data" and "consistent with management practices at the seashore" -- all in a very short time.

And next week, we will find out if there will be any significant changes in wildlife buffers, closures, and beach access during the breeding season.

Some time next week -- probably about mid-week, Hallac says -- the Park Service will release its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) with its proposed actions to meet the requirements of the legislation. He says a no-action alternative -- keeping the current practices in place -- and at least one action alternative will be presented.

Also included in the EA will be literature review of the science used to formulate the alternative and a summary of how the seashore staff applied the science.

The release of the EA will be followed the next week by five public meetings and a two-week public comment period. Seashore staff will then review the comments, Hallac says, and choose an alternative by June 16.

Hallac wouldn't share the details of the EA, which is in the process of being reviewed by NPS officials in the Southeast Regional Office in Atlantic and in Washington, D.C.

However, he did offer a small preview. He said there would be recommended changes to some buffers and that corridors will be proposed "in some areas, at some times."

He still says it's possible to implement some of the proposed changes -- should they become final -- this summer, but that's not a sure thing.

"Some of the changes will take time for us to get resources that are necessary to protect (wildlife) in place," Hallac said. For instance, he said, a smaller buffer could require more monitoring by seashore staff.

"If there is anything we can go ahead and do, we will," he said.

In addition to announcing dates for the public meetings in May, Hallac also released an updated and expedited schedule for completing some of the new construction projects the Park Service committed to when it put the new ORV plan in place.

One of those projects -- a new Ramp 25.5 -- was built last year and the parking area is currently under construction. A new Ramp 32 with a parking area and foot trail to the beach was planned for this year and will be completed as planned. Both are between Salvo and Avon.

Three other projects are being expedited and will be completed this year or next. All three were at the top of a list of projects that CHAPA proposed last month for top priority.

The three are:

  • An interdunal road from Ramp 45 to Ramp 49.
  • A new Ramp 48 in Frisco.
  • A new Ramp 63 on north Ocracoke.

The first two projects will enhance ORV access between Cape Point and Ramp 49 in Frisco -- traveling between those two points is no longer possible because of a vehicle-free area in between them. This will allow vehicles to travel between them without going off the beach, onto Highway 12, and back on the beach. The Ramp 48 will allow more public access to the South Beach in Frisco.

The projects were chosen, Hallac said, because the legislation specifically calls for the construction of new ORV access points and roads as quickly as possible. The other 24 or so new construction projects that are planned all address pedestrian access.

Hallac said the three projects will cost about $750,000. To expedite them, park officials have put other projects on the back burner, will handle them in-house with seashore staff, will fill a vacant position with a heavy equipment operator, and will get an infusion of some additional funds from the Southeast Region.

Also, Hallac has responded to the frustration of beach access groups over their inability to get information from the Park Service on how ORV permit funds are being spent.

The seashore recently posted online detailed information on the status of ORV funds for 2014.

It shows that in the fiscal year, $2.09 million has been collected, and $2.79 million spent. The largest expenditure -- $981,000 is for personnel -- including needed fee collectors, law enforcement rangers, maintenance workers, and seasonal interpretive rangers.

It would be useful to see the staffing expense further broken down and justified, but, all in all, the list is exhaustive -- right down to $222.27 for first aid kits to $162.23 for a trailer hitch.

Hallac should get high marks for conducting this process of legislated changes as publicly and transparently as he possibly can. He should also be commended for reaching out to stakeholders -- both groups and individuals -- on Hatteras and Ocracoke.

He's attended Ocracoke Business and Civic Association and Anglers Club meetings, met with folks in his office and in theirs, and driven the beaches with members of access groups.

It's interesting to note that he's familiar enough with the ORV routes on the islands to have figured out that the wide, flat beach at Ramp 49 in Frisco is a great place to practice your beach driving and go beachcombing. He said he made several trips down with his family over the winter to sharpen his skill at driving on sand -- since he hadn't done it in a number of years -- and to walk the beach, searching for shells.

All of this looks and sounds great, but it's all going to come down to what's in that EA that will be made public next week.

There will have to be some changes -- Congress has demanded that and beach access advocates expect it.

But there cannot be so many changes that environmental advocacy groups, which sued the Park Service in 2007 over its lack of an ORV plan, are driven to return to Judge Boyle's courtroom.

Given Boyle's past performances and his chumminess with Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys, it's clear that a return to court would not end well for more public access to the seashore.

We are now poised at a crossroads, and we'll know a whole lot more for about the future of access for drivers and pedestrians this time next month.

RELATED BLOGS

ORV legislation is very significant for access advocates:
http://islandfreepress.org/PivotBlog/?e=321#body-anchor

A conversation with the new seashore superintendent:
http://islandfreepress.org/PivotBlog/?e=324#body-anchor

NPS response to legislation begins to take shape:
http://islandfreepress.org/PivotBlog/?e=330#body-anchor

MORE INFORMATION

2015 National Defense Authorization Act Actions Update:
http://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/management/2015ndaact.htm

2014 ORV Permit Status of Funds:
http://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/management/access_2014funds.htm

PUBLIC MEETINGS

During the week of April 27, the Park Service plans to release the Environmental Assessment, which will present the seashore’s proposed action to modify wildlife buffers and establish corridors. The release of the document will be followed by a two-week public review period.

Five public meetings are scheduled for the week of May 4 to provide the public with the opportunity to learn about the proposed action. They are scheduled for:

  • Monday, May 4. Ocracoke School, 1 Schoolhouse Road, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 5. Buxton at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, 48576 Highway 12, from 6 until 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 6. Raleigh, North Carolina. N.C. State University Campus, McKimmon Conference and Training Center, 1101 Gorman Street, Raleigh, from 6 until 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 7. Hampton/ Norfolk, Virginia. Embassy Suites Hampton Roads, 1700 Coliseum Drive, Hampton, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Friday, May 8. Kitty Hawk. Hilton Garden Inn, 5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, from 6 until 8 p.m.

The legislation also requires a public process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the seashore, changes to the ORV special regulation as it relates to morning opening of beaches, extending the length of fall and spring seasonal ORV routes, and modifying vehicle free areas. This second phase of the review will be conducted beginning in July 2015.

26 comments

salvo jimmy

Here is a link to a OBPA update of 4/24/15

http://www.obpa.org/index.php?option=com..

salvo jimmy - 24-04-’15 15:37
Linda Browning

This is a complex situation. Thank you for a succinct, well-written article that summarizes the issues and main concerns.

Linda Browning - 24-04-’15 17:08
Al Adam

Never one to get too excited when asking for reasonable balance of access and protection it sure is a refreshing change to have a superintendent who is communicative and making the effort to reach out to the locals who are most impacted. I think we have a forthright guy who will do his best to satisfy various interests given the leaway to do so.
The fact that the ESA is under scrutiny in many venues doesn’t hurt those hoping to have more access to their National Parks. Opportunity is all one can ask.

Al Adam - 24-04-’15 18:44
Jack

A new Cash Cow. Maybe the hiring of the Permit Office personnel, but all the rest of the employee salary and benefit should have remained in the regular Park Budget. They had that staff before. And the cost of research just to continue to keep ORV’s off the beach? What’s with that. There are so many items on this budget that clearly should be covered by the regular park budget it’s unbelievable. The ORV funds are being wasted away on everything but ORV’s. They’re getting the least spent. Was glad to see in the OBPA letter that many of the ORV direct project are getting moved forward to be completed this year or next year. Had that not occurred they would have had up to 5 years of fee collection with minimal outlay on ACCESS ramps and capability.
Just another Government agency increasing their spending from funds that weren’t intended for their goals….

Jack - 24-04-’15 19:10
Denny In Dayton

Simple question I’ve asked for years:

Can we get a COMPLETE financial statement and budget for the CHNSRA? One that breaks down expenditures completely?

Denny In Dayton - 24-04-’15 22:42
Bill Barley

It would be great if they would use some funds for a new sign at Whalebone that i
included the words “NATIONAL RECREATION AREA”. If you Google Nat. Recreation Areas of the NPS the only ones listed on the East Coast are inland in New Jersey, Georgia, and West Virginia!!!

Bill Barley - 25-04-’15 06:54
salvo jimmy

One item I suggest we all look for in the EA on buffers and corridors is a virtual no cost improvement that can be done immediately and does not require any bid/proposal, contracting, etc.

That is to open either Salt Pond Rd or Ramp 45 to ORVs and establish a flexible/movable ORV corridor East to the Point.

And extend the Narrows Bypass back toward Ramp 44 and on down toward the Point. It was originally put in by basically just driving a good 4WD down thru there. Maybe a front loader with a drag rack was also used in some spots, don’t recall. But it could easily be extended the same way.

With the above two items we would have 3 ORV routes to the Point (beach South of Ramp 44, Narrows bypass, corridor from Salt Pond Rd or Ramp 45) and a much better chance of continued ORV access to the Point.

salvo jimmy - 25-04-’15 07:48
Al Adam

Denny
Our friend had requested such information under the FOIA and when he received detailed numbers that would require additional support for verification he was told the filing had expired and if he wished additional info he would need to initiate a new request.
The information came from Atlanta, I believe, and it was a prolonged ordeal to get what he got. I may be able to find the document and will send it to you if I do. I recall references that were useless without keys,which were not provided. One would think that the books of individual parks would be open upon request on a local basis.
I can only guess that the DOI accounting codes are purposely difficult to crack.

Al Adam - 25-04-’15 08:34
Eric K.

I assume that ramp 48 is going to be at the Pier? If so – Horrible idea. When villages are supposed to be free of traffic why would you put the ramp right in the middle of the village. I am sure they will do it but in my opinion it will make Frisco much less attractive to vacationers. Hopefully it will be restricted to November-March only.

Eric K. - 25-04-’15 13:16
irene

Ramp 48 will not be near the Frisco Pier.

Ramp 48 will be approximately 1 mile east of Ramp 49 — toward the Point. Access will be via the new interdunal road.

The reason that Ramp 48 will be so great for more access is that turtles have a habit of nesting very near Ramp 49 — to the left as you go over the ramp, in the direction of Cape Point. They often nest high enough on the dune that there is no ORV — or pedestrian — passage behind them when the eggs are about to hatch and the nest — and closure — are expanded to the ocean. Therefore, the open beach from 49 out to the vehicle-free area (about 2 miles) is blocked.

After Ramp 48 is completed, the south Beach at Frisco will be accessible via Ramp 44 and the interdunal Road.

FYI, ramps are numbered from north to south on the seashore and represent — more or less — mile markers.

Ramp 1 is at the north end of the seashore on Bodie Island, and Ramp 72 is on the south end at South Point on Ocracoke.

irene - 25-04-’15 15:21
salvo jimmy

And if you subtract 20 from a green mile marker on 12 you will be at what NPS miles are. That is Ramp 23 is roughly at hwy green mile marker 43

salvo jimmy - 25-04-’15 19:34
Ricky

And sadly Jimmy if you subtract 5 from 10 you get the number of piping plovers that fledged on massive areas of beach were closed to everyone and everything. Still the SELC boosts record numbers to the rest of the blind media and world. It’s good that reasonable access is finally being looked at after the “ridiculous” years.

Ricky - 26-04-’15 11:55
FKAA

Irene,

You wrote “There will have to be some changes — Congress has demanded that and beach access advocates expect it.”

That’s not true. Congress only “mandated” that the NPS “consider” changes based upon the science which has already been “considered” multiple times for resource protection.

There’s no doubt some minor things can be tweaked, but I doubt the whole-sale changes some of you seem to be expecting can be, or will be made.

FKAA - 26-04-’15 14:09
anon

FKAA has it spot on. The NPS will “consider it” decide they are doing just fine, or perhaps need bigger closures due to the dismal plover fledge rate, and nothing will change. The whole thing is a tempest in a teacup, there will be no significant changes to the beach access plan.

anon - 26-04-’15 17:49
irene

FKAA,
Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t know many people who are expecting wholesale changes.
However, I do believe there will be some changes — call them tweaking if you like.
We sure could use some tweaking.
Irene

irene - 26-04-’15 18:52
SalvoGal

Why is one meeting scheduled in Raleigh, easily at least a 4 hour drive from Hatteras Island and why is one in VA? Aren’t these meetings to get public input on changes to beach access on Hatteras Ialand?

SalvoGal - 26-04-’15 22:52
Bud

The ORV ramp numbers are miles from Whalebone Junction. The mile-markers start at Kitty Hawk, they are a recent addition (10 years).

Bud - 27-04-’15 07:01
AnonVisitor

“dismal plover fledge rate”
I am glad to see to some honesty from anon, current resource management has done NOTHING except prevent access. Totally contrary to the press releases from SELC and their supporting charlatan organizations. More and bigger closures will never provide the fledge rates they deceptively want us to believe is achievable. Maybe the tweaking should be lower fledge rates and take allowances be brought back down to reality.

AnonVisitor - 27-04-’15 07:08
FKAA

I have no reason to be disappointed Irene, but based upon the comments here and elsewhere, some appear to believe the legislation is a magic bullet that’s going to revert the seashore back to 1970s (non)protection levels, and they’re more than likely going to be sorely disappointed.

What would you tweak?

Personally, I believe topography and landmarks should be considered and buffers should not extend beyond areas which chicks cannot travel (e.g. the Salt Pond area).

Copulation should also be removed as a trigger for closures and it should be limited only nest “building” behavior or scraping as it’s called. I don’t know of any data which suggests any of these species will not copulate outside of any nesting territory it may later choose.

That’s about the only tweaks which could be supported by the science.

FKAA - 27-04-’15 13:34
TADA

FKAA,

Mr. Gordon Myers of the NCWRC disagrees with you and your short list of “tweaks”.

http://www.obpa-nc.org/NPS_Legislation/4..

TADA - 28-04-’15 13:58
salvo jimmy

SalvoGal,

There are many more folks not on Hatteras or Ocracoke Islands who are interested in this, than are probably actually on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands in the time frame of the meetings, hence why besides meetings in Ocracoke and Buxton, meetings are scheduled in Kitty Hawk, Raleigh and Hampton.

For example I will happen to be in Hampton when the Hampton meeting is scheduled and will attend it. I would not be able to attend the one in Buxton or Kitty Hawk for that matter, and certainly not Ocracoke or Raleigh.

salvo jimmy - 28-04-’15 18:17
FKAA

TADA,
For one, he failed to include a single scientific citation to support his “tweaks” – as should be expected from a non-scientist partisan political appointee. But at least he unscientifically and honestly asks to relocate sea turtle nests for access, rather than some faux concern for the species.

For two, it’s the interim plan redux which is fiscally untenable, unless NCWRC is going to fund 24/7 monitors for all of the “modified” closures and is scientifically suspect based on documented observations, practices and existing lit.

FKAA - 28-04-’15 22:51
Realistically

Realistically

http://www.obpa-nc.org/NPS_Legislation/N..

The OBPA board members and Gordon should carefully read the language of the bill. 
Has NCWRC presented their peer reviewed data for their buffers concerning the specific beach nesting  birds in Park?  NCWRC has rubber stamped what the ORV access orgs tell them via the politicians who control Gordon’s purse strings. 

http://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/management..

“ in accordance with applicable laws”

“in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data”

“Where possible”

“Coordinate and consult with State of North Carolina wildlife officials”

“in accordance with management plans”

“Undertake a process to consider”

Realistically - 29-04-’15 06:20
salvo jimmy

Unfortunately TADA the just released EA on buffer mods seems to basically ignore the state’s input, relying on much data that is 20-40 yrs old for most state listed species.

salvo jimmy - 29-04-’15 18:25
salvo jimmy

In fact the copy of the state’s letter in the EA is not in the correct page order, nor is it complete.

Sort of says how much consideration it was given.

salvo jimmy - 29-04-’15 18:36
irene

The National Park Service has just released the Environmental Assessment with its proposals for buffer modifications and corridors.

Article on the document is posted on Beach Access and Park Issues Page. Go to: http://www.islandfreepress.org/2015Archi...

irene - 29-04-’15 18:41




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