Sundae Horn
Hard at work on their agenda. Clockwise: Erick, Vince, Rudy, David, Darlene, Bill, Daniel, Tom
Hard at work on their agenda. Clockwise: Erick, Vince, Rudy, David, Darlene, Bill, Daniel, Tom

Another amazing meeting (Monday, Oct. 16th @ 5:30pm) – and you're invited!

I'm not joking. Local decision-making is a truly fascinating process, and this new commission will address some very important Ocracoke issues. 

Tom Pahl has created a county-appointed commission to work on issues related to inlets, channels, sloughs, dredging, ferries, Silver Lake, and more. As a board, they will represent Ocracoke and Hyde County to various regulatory agencies and advocate for Ocracoke's needs. Per the resolution adopted by the Board of Commissioners (BOC), the Waterways Commission's purpose includes exploring short- and long-term strategies to assure waterways access for ferries, commercial fishing, and recreational boating. They will work as an advisory board to the commissioners and recommend specific actions for the BOC to take. 

Tom is Ocracoke's representative on the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, and has been attending some of the Dare County Waterways Commission's meetings. Dare County will work with Ocracoke and share expertise, which is nice of them, but it's mostly because of our shared dependency on Hatteras Inlet. We are in it together.

The Ocracoke Waterways Commission will gather information from the NCDOT ferry division, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, CAMA, the division of marine fisheries, NC Fish & Wildlife, National Park Service, etc., and then lobby them for funding and permits and decisions as needed. There's a lot of public and private interest in our navigable saltwater.

The new commission held an organizational meeting on August 31st, and voted in David Hilton to serve as board chair. Justin LeBlanc missed that meeting, and thus was appointed vice chair in absentia. Erick O'Neal will serve as secretary (with help from Hyde County PIO Donnie Shumate as recording secretary); other members are Vince O'Neal, Rudy Austin, and Darlene Styron. They will meet once a month on the 3rd Monday at 5:30pm. (That's today!) It's a seven-member board and whoever is county commissioner (currently Tom Pahl) is automatically on it. County manager Bill Rich will also attend meetings, as will other county officials as needed. (Daniel Brinn, the county planning department's water and flood control coordinator, was also there.) There will be time for public comments at each meeting.

Between them, these people have a lot of experience, with Ocracoke boards and/or waterways. David is a commercial fisherman and member of Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association (OWWA); Justin is the vice president of OCBA and the chair of the Mosquito Control Board, and he's also a professional lobbyist. Vince is an OWWA member, the president of Ocracoke Youth Center, and Planning Board member; Erick is a commercial fisherman, and on the OWWA board and the Fish House board; Darlene is a former Hyde County commissioner, and on the emergency management control group; Rudy is a retired ferry captain, OWWA member, Tideland EMC board member, Mosquito Control board member, and president of OCBA. Whew! Also, they ride ferries, just like the rest of us. We're all in the same boat, literally and figuratively. 

At the organizational meeting, all agreed that the commission's top priority is Hatteras Inlet. Could they help get the permit process begun to make a shorter long route? What would it take? 

In addition to Hatteras Inlet, attention must be paid to the channels and sloughs used by the sound ferries. 

The delicate topic of live-aboards and sewage bubbled up. "Silver Lake has a lot of floating motel rooms," Tom said. "Should that be an issue that the commission takes on?" (When did NPS get rid of their pump-out station – and why? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Bill reminded the group that in 2013, the county applied for permits from the Corps of Engineers and CAMA to install mooring balls in Silver Lake, and they found grant money for a pump-out system. The idea died because of some backlash – is it time to look at that again? "We've done all the research," Bill said. 

At last week's Civic Affairs meeting, Tom said the Waterways Commission had three main goals: 1. to look toward the future and anticipate Ocracoke's needs and get ahead of emergency situations; 2. to look at waterways and channels to find ways to improve them; and 3. discuss harbor issues.

Come out to watch the Waterways Commission as they embark on their first working meeting today at 5:30pm.