Rep. Jones bill to open Cape Hatteras beaches passes House

Companion Senate bill scheduled for hearing next week

Craig Holt

June 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Expanded beach access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore will give anglers more opportunities to enjoy the ocean’s bounty.
Craig Holt
Expanded beach access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore will give anglers more opportunities to enjoy the ocean’s bounty.
After striking out a half-dozen times trying to change public beach access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Rep. Walter Jones Jr. has hit a home run in Congress.

On Tuesday, June 19, the U.S. House of Representative passed his bill, HR 4094, by a 232-188 margin, reopening miles of beach to pedestrians and off-road-vehicles.

If Senate Bill 2372, a bi-partisan companion bill submitted by Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan passes next week, the latest NPS plan will be replaced by the Interim Plan.

Jones’ bill would reinstate the Interim Management Plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore and put aside a 2008 Off-Road-Vehicle Rule implemented by the National Park Service, tweaked in 2011 and made even more restrictive.

 

“This bill would protect resources and open up more access to the seashore,” Jones said. “It would reopen 26 miles of beach now permanently closed to ORVs and would reverse job loss and economic decline that Hatteras Island has experienced. It’s time to return access to taxpayers. This is a balanced piece of legislation.”

 

Jones’ bill was part of a package of 14 bills grouped as HR 2578, known as the Conservation and Economic Growth Act. The vote was mostly along party lines, but 19 Republicans opposed the bill, while 16 Democrats voted for it.

 

The Obama Administration has expressed its opposition to HR 2578, specifically singling out the Cape Hatteras National Seashore portion in a news release from the Office of Management and Budget.

 

John Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, saw the Administration’s opposition as a hurdle to be cleared, in addition to passage of a companion bill in the Senate.

 

“Until we get through the whole process, going to the Senate and getting past Harry Reid (Senate majority leader), we’re racing for the finish line and hope we’ve got enough to get over,” Couch said.

 

CAHA beach-driving restrictions originated with a lawsuit filed by The Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife against the National Park Service while they were in “negotiated rule-making” to determine a compromise beach-access plan. With the suit, negotiations ended, and the controversy moved to federal court where Judge Terrence Boyle created a consent decree in 2008. Opponents of the lawsuit — local citizens, businesses, Outer Banks beach access groups and fishing clubs — said they had the choice of agreeing or seeing CAHA beaches completely shut down.

 

If the Burr-Hagan companion bill becomes law, 26 miles of beach now permanently closed to motorized beach access would re-open, and NPS seashore managers would have the flexibility to implement more balanced measures that maximize recreational access and species protection.

 

Jones’ bill was aimed at replacing the NPS Final Rule that severely restricted motorized access to some of the favorite surf-fishing spots in the United States. Currently, under NPS rule, The Point at Cape Hatteras is closed to vehicular access.

 

NPS’s current visitor-access requirements at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CAHA) restricts both pedestrian and vehicular access, Additionally this spring, NPS imposed fees of $50 per week and $120 per year to drive on CAHA’s beaches. Beach drivers also had to watch an hour-long video before they could obtain a permit sticker for their vehicles to drive at CAHA beaches. Formerly, no film/fees were required.

 

If the Burr-Hagan companion bill becomes law, NPS seashore managers also would have the flexibility to implement more balanced measures that maximize recreational access and species protection.

 

OBPA’s Couch said only 8 miles of the 73 miles of national seashore are open to ORV use because of bird sightings, particularly piping plovers and American oystercatchers. Fall access closures for sea turtle nests are yet to come.

 

“The (Cape Hatteras) Point is closed now; you can’t even get near it,” Couch said. “You can’t trust what the (beach-closure proponents) say about beaches open to ORV use; the only way you really can figure it out is by Google Earth.

 

“The way (they) calculate what’s open by mileage is inaccurate. For instance, they claim Pole Road is open. It’s 2 miles long, but you can’t get the beaches because the beaches are closed off Pole Road. It’s a misnomer to say most of the seashore is open to ORV use or things like 40-some miles are open. Right now, it’s 8 miles.”


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