The Southern Environmental Law Center fired another volley in its misinformation campaign about beach access in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with yet another media release on Monday, Oct. 5.
This release closely follows the spin that environmental groups have put on this issue thus far.
The topic of both was the alleged success of the consent decree that has replaced resource management by the National Park Service at the seashore beaches and the attempt by access advocates to have that consent decree overturned by passing legislation in Congress.
I’ve written about both the e-mail and the August media release in previous blogs and attempted to set the record straight on some of the “facts” in both of the documents.
Here are a few more thoughts.
No matter what the SELC says, the economic indicators are down in Dare County and especially on Hatteras Island. Retail sales tax collections were down at the end of July by 1.99 percent for the year. Dare County occupancy taxes were down year to date by 3.88 percent at the end of August. Dare County food and beverage taxes were down by 3.26 percent at the end of August.
My friend and colleague Sandy Seamans, editor of the Outer Banks Sentinel, wrote in the Sept. 30 edition:
Currently, the SELC website has a release sent out about a month ago by the Visitor Bureau. It was based on a release sent out from the state that stated that tourism spending was up in 2008 and that Dare County saw an increase of 1.5 percent in spending for that year. But what it didn't explain is that it was based on sales tax - oh, yes, and that gas went to more than $4 a gallon during the summer of 2008. So the numbers don't mean that tourism is up, but instead, that in this case, it was simply more expensive to visit here.
Seamans’ editorial on misinformation, by the way, was titled, “Shooting from the hip can injure a toe.” I recommend reading the entire editorial at http://www.womacknewspapers.com/obsentinel/ Look under the Letters/Editorials section on the front page
In addition, ferry ridership is down this year when numbers of vehicles for the tourist season months from 2006 through 2009 are charted from statistics generated by the state’s Ferry Division.
The SELC release says that visitation to the national seashore has increased under the consent decree. I went online to the Web site that explains exactly how the Park Service figures out those visitation numbers.
On it are “public use and counting instructions” with some helpful information:
- An inductive loop traffic counter is located on Highway 12 at the junction of old U.S. 158 at the park entrance. The traffic count is reduced for non-recreation traffic by multiplying the traffic count by the non-recreation adjustment factor in Table 1. The reduced traffic count is multiplied by the recreation persons-per-vehicle (PPV) multiplier in Table 2.
- The number of registered hunters.
- The number of aircraft observed at Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island is multiplied by the persons-per-plane multiplier of 2.5.
- The number of vehicles arriving on Ocracoke Island by ferry is multiplied by the recreation PPV multiplier in Table 2.
- The number of overnight boats is multiplied by the persons-per-boat (PPB) multiplier of four.
I have no idea how the Park Service reaches its visitation numbers or if they are anywhere close to reality. I would, however, be interested to know whose job it is to count planes arriving on the islands and boats docking overnight.
Information supplied by Dare County shows that water usage on the island – one indicator of how many people are here -- is down for most months this year.
Are all of these down numbers an indication of the recession or the consent decree?
That we don’t know, but it is irresponsible of SELC to claim that the economic picture in Dare County is ever so wonderful – all because environmental groups went to court to advance their activist agenda.
And just a couple more comments to add to what I have already said in my previous blogs about the success of the “baby” birds and turtles under the consent decree.
Last year, the SELC declared the 2008 bird nesting season a victory for the first summer under the consent decree. You will notice that in the latest SELC media release there is no mention of bird nesting in 2008. In the cases of the piping plover and American oystercatcher, 2009 is compared to 2007.
That is because numbers for those two species are down this year. Seven piping plovers fledged in 2008 and there were only six this year. Seventeen oystercatchers fledged in 2008, compared to 13 this year.
And, again the release attributes the record number of sea turtles nesting on the seashore last year to the consent decree.
According to Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 2008 was a “fairly good year” for sea turtle nesting on all of the states beaches. There were 866 nests along the coast last year, compared to 715 in an average year.
It’s not quite as easy as saying the consent decree brought all these turtles to North Carolina.
Godfrey says this year looks to be another good one for turtle nesting all along the coast, but final numbers are not in yet.
Since the environmental groups keep reminding us that their demand for greater than ever restrictions on ORV access to the beach is based in science, you would think they might be more judicious in declaring victory on the basis of 18 months of the consent decree.
Most scientists will agree that 18 months of statistics do not make the case – especially when the statistics are used so selectively.
And, finally, there is that sticky question of how much beach was closed to ORVs this summer.
According to the SELC release, “only 13.7 miles of the seashore’s 67.5 miles of beach were temporarily off limits to ORVs for wildlife protection.”
Technically, that is correct. Only 13.7 miles were listed in mid-June as resource closures.
However, when you tally up the permanent closures, seasonal closures, pedestrian-only areas, and areas that were technically open but you couldn’t get there in an ORV, the closures for ORVs are more extensive.
Virginia Luizer of Frisco who tracks the closures for the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club Web site and other access groups says that the most miles closed to ORVs came in mid-June. Based on the Park Service’s weekly access reports, she devised a chart on closures for the club site.
This is what Ginny says about her figures based on the NPS June 18 access report:
“….the most (miles) closed to ORVs for resource purposes is 21.35 for the week ending 6/18/09. This amounts to 54 percent of the miles normally available to ORVs….To look at it another way 18.2 miles were available for ORV use or 27 percent of the entire seashore.”
I just want to quote Sandy Seamans again because I think she nailed it with this statement in her editorial:
Another post, this time by attorney Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, was even more unsettling. Carter seems to have adopted the strategy of spreading misinformation in hopes that perception will become reality.
Finally, if you want to keep tabs on SELC and their spin on beach access, you can check out – or sign up for -- their “fan” page on Facebook and let them know what you think.
I don’t intend keep writing about SELC ’s uninformed and misleading campaign to save the “baby” birds and turtles.
From here on, I want to keep my reporting – and your attention – focused on the NEPA process for final ORV rulemaking.
I’ve written a blog on that also. Check it out and be prepared.