Friday, March 4, 2011

Of Discrimination And Irony

It’s not often I have the pleasure of being able to laugh at this mess that requires us to fight for access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area; not often at all. But once in a while the opportunity does arrive and I had such a moment this last weekend.

I was talking to a friend about access and the need to get the word out about our fight and how we are being severely wronged by the NPS. And as we continued our discussion we began to relate the nightmare of this fight and the toll it takes on us all.

As simple, yet sad as it is, I was bemused to discover that I wasn’t the only one waking up at 2am night after night trying to beat this thing. Yes I laughed. So I propose that we should file for a government grant to study this new sleeping disorder, “access insomnia”.

What’s really sad is that at this point in time, with the number of access fights that NPS has started around this nation, this disorder currently affects many thousands of taxpaying citizens of this country.

What’s been keeping me up at night lately was a great blog post by Irene Nolan, published on 2/18/11, about the need for an environmental impact study, to study the environmental impact, of the NPS Final environmental impact statement (FEIS). Yes, you read that correctly. The article can be found here:

This new study is to among other things, assess the impact of the proposed “improvements” found in the NPS preferred alternative F published in the FEIS.

Part of the so called “improvements” proposed in ALT F include parking areas and walk-over’s to allow pedestrian access to the proposed “vehicle free areas” (VFAs).

The VFAs are areas that would be limited to pedestrian use only and will permanently close huge sections of the Islands beaches to all ORV access in spite of the fact that these areas have, since before the existence of the Seashore, been reached primarily by ORV. This action by NPS also ignores Executive Order 11989 which qualifies reasoning for terminating ORV access with the onus upon NPS to show that proposed or continued access either” has caused or will cause considerable adverse effects” to the resource. As I’ve pointed out many times before, this is something that NPS cannot do.

It’s important to note that during the regular, or what used to be regular management of the Seashore, several VFAs exist for either a significant portion of the year and one, the largest of them all, the northern 13 miles of Hatteras Island, remains ORV free for all four seasons as it has for many years now.

The standard VFA that has been in place seasonally are the closures of the beaches in front of the villages on Hatteras Island. These are put in place to accommodate the persons who can manage to access the beaches from the villages on foot and choose to do so. This can be a bit tricky as there are no public walkways and the like to provide access so that anyone choosing this mode and location for egress risks the ire of property owners. These closures are billed by NPS as “safety closures” and typically run from about Memorial Day to Labor Day

The exception is Hatteras village which because of the threat of a lawsuit from a non-resident home owner, NPS no longer opens in the winter. Buxton Beach also remains closed year round.

Perhaps the most famous, irksome, and often seen VFA on the Seashore is the miles of beach between beach access Ramp 43 and north to Buxton. It’s been there for years and day after day, that entire beach goes almost entirely unused in spite of nearby parking.

Obviously, NPS wants a lot more unused and inaccessible beach on top of the vast areas they propose to close permanently to all access. And between those permanent closures, seasonal “resource” closures and VFAs, ORV access to this Recreational Area will be severely limited for the majority of the year.

When I look at the FEIS these days, the NPS “AGENDA” becomes even more apparent. And what we’ve been saying about that agenda, that it’s not just a plan to remove ORVs from the Seashore, but pedestrians as well, rings true.

Of course NPS offers a convoluted premise for these VFAs which include visitor safety, minimizing visitor conflict, and the preservation of what is referred to as “sightscapes”, all of which are in fact, NPS mandates. While certainly safety issues and user conflicts do arise from time to time there is a lack of remarkable record of either.

I do have issue with a federal agency that bespeaks a mandate which it won’t follow on its own. The same agency that says “some people would like to have a beach without ORVs disturbing the “sightscapes”“, line the one road on and off this island with bright orange dumpsters, miles of signs, posts, strings and plastic ribbon that also cover our 73 miles of beach from one end to the other, almost literally.

The solution to creating points of access to these proposed VFAs, according to NPS, is the construction of parking areas in select locations along the length of the Islands, most of which will be on Ocracoke if I read the chart correctly.

When this NPS thought process becomes absurd is when you start working with the supposed visitation numbers which NPS quotes at one point as ~2.1 million annually and then consider the proposed permanent, seasonal and incidental beach closures. Keep in mind, that until the final rule is place, we won’t know how a lot of this math works out but here are some thoughts to ponder.

Let’s assume we do have 2.1 million visitors a year even though who ever came up with those numbers clearly hasn’t lived here since the decree of forced consent. And for the sake of argument, let’s say half of those visitors come to the Islands with the intention of driving on the beach, a traditional form of access to these shores. That leaves us with 1,050,000 people that come here to recreate on the beaches via ORV so that they can access areas of the Seashore that are remote and comprise the vast majority of the Islands lands.

The insult begins with this user group, those that choose to visit the Seashore via ORV, because we are about to take on the cost of developing all of the infrastructure necessary to develop not only these VFA’s but all of the sundry accommodations necessary to support pedestrian only access such as walkovers, parking lots, more orange dumpsters, and restrooms and of course, required maintenance costs. This proposed cost will all be covered, according to NPS, primarily by ORV permit fees; cost to be determined.

NPS is openly discriminating against one user group in this process as “pedestrian only” visitors will be assessed no fee for seeking recreational activity upon the sand and by the sea. Personally, I see this as having great potential for the very same user conflict issues that NPS claim they need to avoid to justify these VFAs.

The insult continues when you realize that for all the cost that ORV users will bear in terms of permit fees and access lost to miles of some of the most favorite and productive beaches on these Islands, NPS plans to build only 130 odd parking spaces. Though admittedly this will create a slightly greater opportunity for pedestrian access, it remains restricted to the first to arrive and as such, limits the amount of persons on the sand much the same way vehicle per mile limitations have been proposed for ORV use.

As such, they not so subtly insult us all.

Most of these parking areas will be on Ocracoke but the vast majority of lost ORV access will be on Hatteras. I guess someone ran into an issue when they realized that the average width of the Islands is only about 150 yards.

And while NPS limits access to all user groups they foster use conflict born of resentment, they get to pave over paradise and put up a parking lot. The irony is astounding and it ticks me off to no end!

There are a lot of good folks that are joining this fight, and quickly! It’s made for an interesting last week and change to say the least. But we need everybody’s help in this fight.

We can win this if we band together and voice our objections to this absurd and unjustified action by NPS. Write and call your federal representatives and share your stories of Hatteras with your friends and encourage them to help as well. Bring them here and show them what we fight for.

Examples of the absurd and overly restrictive proposed alternative like the ones mentioned above, as well as their results, is a loud call for relief so that all that enjoy the magic that is this user maintained, user cleaned ribbon of sand can continue to do so.

The sun will rise tomorrow on islands being covered with closures but as the moon passes this night, many will continue their fight for free and open access to our Seashore. It’s a warm smile that comes with that thought.

Oh, and please give some further thought to the fact that you are paying somebody to do an environmental impact study to determine the environmental impact of the NPS FINAL environmental impact statement.

Tight Lines,


1 comment:

  1. wow.. im a virginia resident, originally from long island, new york.. i have been looking into relocating to the beautiful outer banks for sometime now. the more i research, the more i find good causes to fight for once i finally take root in the obx. i almost applied for a job with the nps but decided against it for reasons unknown... until now. funny how things work out.