Open Letter: Island Economy at Risk

To the Editors,

Recent actions by the National Park Service and the North Carolina State Legislature have created a perilous situation for the economy of Ocracoke Island.

The NPS has implemented a fee to drive on the beach.  Historically there has been no fee.  The NC state Legislature mandated in the 2012 Budget that the State Ferry System generate 5M in revenues, a large part of which will come from the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter Ferry runs to Ocracoke.  These two ferries are the primary traffic arteries for traffic to the island from the south as well as the west.

With higher than normal gas prices, a continuing high unemployment rate and the always present risk of a hurricane, it appears "Perfect Storm" conditions may be developing for the small island and its 800 plus permanent residents.  The tourist economy drives the well being of its inhabitants whether they work in  lodging, restaurants, retail shops, or as ferry workers or commercial fisherman.

Have the National Park Service Management and the North Carolina State Legislature given due consideration to the economic impact their mandates may cause?  The very existence of Ocracoke Island as it is today maybe at risk.

An example of the impact of the proposed increase in Ferry Tolls and the imposition of the Beach Access Fee is as follows:

Family of four comes to Ocracoke for a 2 night weekend stay.  They plan to spend quality time on the beach by way of their family owned SUV/4 wheel drive.  They travel a Sound Class Ferry to Ocracoke.  They are coming from southern North Carolina so driving around by Hatteras (the free ferry) is not an option. It would increase travel time by some 5 to 6 hours.  This is prohibitive for a weekend/2 night stay.

The historic cost for the ferry ride has been $15 each way for a total of $30.  There has been historically NO CHARGE for beach access.  The cost to the family for the new NPS Beach Access Fee is $50 for the two day beach outing (the weekly fee is the minimum fee).  The cost for the ferry ride is proposed to be $47 each way ($27 for the vehicle and $5 for each passenger); for a total ferry cost of $94.  Total cost for ferry and beach access being $144 for the two night/two day beach getaway.  The increased cost for the weekend outing is $114, up from $30 last year.  This is a 480% increase.

While it is recognized that the Government must increase revenues or reduce services in these dire economic times, it should not be done without considering the consequences to a small community completely dependent upon tourism.  The citizens, property owners and businesses of Ocracoke all are at risk.  The NPS and the North Carolina State Legislature should revisit their increase in charges giving consideration to the potential loss of one of the National/State Treasures; Ocracoke Island and its Citizens as we know it today.

H. Wayne Clark
Edwards of Ocracoke
Rooms and Cottages
Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
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