Hyde Commissioners to Meet Again

Sundae Horn

They voted to discuss opening Ocracoke to visitors at a special November 18 meeting.

Is there anything more boring than a photo of a meeting? Enjoy these clouds instead. Clouds are amazing.
Is there anything more boring than a photo of a meeting? Enjoy these clouds instead. Clouds are amazing.

About 40 people turned out on the Ocracoke side of the screen for the November regular meeting of the Hyde County Board of Commissioners. 

At the October meeting, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted to put off discussion of opening Ocracoke until tonight's meeting. They established two benchmarks they wanted to pass before allowing visitors to return. 

Number one is the "first pass" of debris pick-up. Check! Ocracoke's first pass is complete. As of November 1st, the debris removal team has relocated to the mainland for the single pass they will get over there. Roadside debris removal will start up again on Ocracoke in mid-November. Meanwhile, trucks will continue to leave the island every day carrying away loads of debris from the giant pile at the lifeguard beach parking lot (six loads a day, four days a week; four loads per day on the other three days.) 

Number two is the opening of NC 12 on Ocracoke. 

"The DOT is assuring us that at this point they are on track to complete repair work by November 22nd," reported Ocracoke's commissioner, Tom Pahl. "And the ferry division is ready to restore service from South Dock to Hatteras when the road opens." 

The Ocracoke Control Group met before the October board of commissioners meeting and again last week before the November meeting. They may have met other times, also; the Control Group does not announce their meetings before or after they take place, and we only find out about them after decisions are made. Although, the Control Group is designated as an "advisory" committee, the BOC almost always follows their recommendations. 

According to Tom, the Control Group recommends that Ocracoke remain closed to visitors until the road is open to the north end. 

There is some pressure from island business owners and residents to open sooner, like yesterday. 

During the first public comment period Marissa Gross and Stevie Wilson made statements about re-opening.

Marissa praised the respect and generosity that she's seen on Ocracoke since the storm, and then asked for the freedom to conduct her business. (She owns Down Creek Gallery.) She pointed out that there have been other times when NC 12 on Ocracoke was compromised from storms, yet we re-opened to visitors with access from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island; this time, we also have two routes to Hatteras in addition to the sound ferries. 

Stevie agreed that the county and volunteers have done an excellent job helping Ocracoke recover, and said, "Some of us are ready to move on. It's time to move forward and life the evacuation. There's little reason not to open immediately."

During the commissioners' reports segment of the meeting, Tom Pahl opened by saying recovery on Ocracoke is not slowing down and going well, but there's still a long way to go. With over 400 residents displaced by the storm, the focus of recovery efforts has shifted to "medium-term housing," Tom explained. "We are working with the realties and the longterm recovery group to find out how many people might be displaced again by opening the island, and what their options are." 

Many Ocracoke residents are temporarily living in vacation cottages. When the island re-opens to visitors, the realty companies will be legally obligated to honor any rental contracts already in place. That could result in turning out residents who've been staying in these homes while theirs are repaired. The county is working on getting travel trailers that homeowners could put in their yards to live in while they make repairs; travel trailers could be available to renters as well, if they can find a lot to live on. 

Commissioner Shannon Swindell commented that he's been getting calls and emails about opening the island, and the requests are unanimous from business owners that it's time. 


Tom replied that he's well aware of the pressure to open, but he is getting an equal amount of calls and conversations with people who don't want to see the island open this soon. That's why he is looking at the repair on highway 12 as the trigger, and will discuss opening again in the meeting in two weeks. 

County manager Kris Noble noted that another factor to consider when opening the island is that the ferries will go back to their normal winter schedule, they will charge tolls, and ferry space will be at a premium. Getting supplies, contractors, and volunteers to the island will get more challenging. 

"I prefer a December 1st opening," she said. "I don't think we'll be ready for our usual Thanksgiving crowd." 

Kris also stressed the need for Ocracoke to get out the message that we are rebuilding and will be ready and beautiful in the spring. She doesn't think we need to wait until spring to open, but that "It's time to send a message right now so that people feel comfortable making their spring and summer plans."

(At last week's Tourism Development Authority meeting, a subcommittee was formed to work on such a message. They meet this Thursday.)

Leslie Lanier (owner of Books to Be Red) spoke during the public comment period at the end of the meeting. "I came tonight hoping we'd get a date [for opening]; at least we're going to get a meeting to get a date," she said. She added that visitors need to get information sooner because it takes more than a few days to make travel plans. She also mentioned that Hyde County is missing out on sales and use tax revenues.

"Visitors need to know that they can come," Leslie said. "People are already cancelling, saying they don't want to bother us. Those of us with businesses want to be bothered. Even if I have to sell books from a table in my yard, I don't see that as a bad thing. It's an honest living instead of asking for a handout."

Stay tuned for more reporting from last night's BOC meeting. This was just a sample! 


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