Access to Hatteras Seashore is topic of meetings

Associated PressJuly 13, 2013 

— The head of a group that supports vehicle access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore says his group shouldn’t have to foot the bill so pedestrians have more ways to get to the beach.

The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., reported the National Park Service is seeking public comment on 29 proposed projects, including 15 parking areas and 11 handicap-accessible boardwalks.

Beach drivers will pay the bill while the upgrades benefit pedestrians, said Jim Keene, director of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association. People should be charged for parking, he said.

The Park Service has collected more than $2 million since it began requiring beach-driving permits early last year. A Park Service report says permit fees will be used to pay for the improvements.

Included in the plans are five footpaths and five off-road-vehicle ramps. New ramps wouldn’t be needed if the current ones were opened for traffic, Keene said.

“There is some good, and there is a lot of bad and a lot of waste,” he said of the plans.

Some of the best fishing locations and prime nesting sites for protected wildlife are in the same places and peak in activity about the same times.

Park Service spokeswoman Cyndy Holda said in an email that questions would be answered at public meetings that will be held Tuesday in Avon and Wednesday on Ocracoke Island.

More than 2 million annual visitors would find it easier and safer to reach the beach if the projects are completed, the Park Service report says.

“Our understanding was that all along permit fees would be used to improve access to all visitors,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill.

The Southern Environmental Law Center support limitations on beach driving to protect nesting sites.

Acrimony among beach drivers, environmental groups and the Park Service dates to the late 1990s when environmental groups sued the Park Service to do more to preserve the piping plover, a threatened species. Fishing and beach-driving groups contested, but the courts called for more off-road driving restrictions in 2008.

Last year, after an environmental study, the Park Service instituted larger buffers around nesting sites and required beach drivers to pay $120 for a yearlong permit to drive on the beach. A seven-day permit is $50.

Since then, the N.C. Beach Buggy Association and others have sued while also supporting a bill in Congress to force the Park Service to allow more vehicle access to the beaches.

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