Do we really need to do this again?
Apparently we do.
Despite the fact that it’s been 5 years since the initial lawsuit, 4 since the consent decree, and 2 since the National Park Service finally bowed to reality and common sense and instituted a reasonable Off-Road Vehicle management plan like nearly every other National Seashore in the nation, we must still continue to fight these battles against the proudly uninformed and perpetually unsatisfied. This second year of active Park Service involvement has seen continued success on the part of the birds and continued scape-goating on the part of the ORV activists. And this time their shrill cries have managed to resound in the halls of Congress, as the two Senators from North Carolina have decided to put partisanship aside and introduce a bill that would overturn the federal court decision that paved the way for the current status quo, and apparently turn back the clock five years to the days when 4x4s had the run of the place, blocking access to the water, filling the air with exhaust and running willy-nilly over shorebirds, turtles, children, sunbathers, shellers, surfers, and any other of the approximately 95% of Cape Hatteras National Seashore user who don’t drive vehicles on the beach.
On a purely policy level, this is a terrible bill. The reason we have things like governmental scientific agencies and judicial review is to prevent petty politics from getting involved in what should be scientific decisions. Co-sponsor Kay Hagan (D-NC) is so afraid of her eventual defeat at the hand of the new confederacy that she’s willing to do anything to appeal to people that won’t ever vote for her anyway. Brave Senator Burr (R-NC), he who has perfected the political hissy fit, has couched this move in the predictably weasily words of compromise (a practice he, ironically, finds abhorrent in every other aspect of his career), stating, “I am confident we can come to a compromise that allows people to have access while at the same time addressing any potential environmental concerns”. Together their collective ignorance on the subject is barely the width of Hatteras Island itself, but ignorance is never a problem when there are grands to be standed and pandering to be done.
With this pablum about compromise, what the Senators (Burr, in particular) fail, or more likely refuse, to realize is that that is precisely what the current NPS regulations are. A compromise that was borne of nearly a decade of salt-drenched sweat, tears, and sea, and finally came into being despite the ridiculous allegations, the constant scape-goating, and the outright lies of ORV “advocates”. This scape-goating was on full display recently at a House subcommittee meeting last Friday in conjunction with a similar bill proposed by Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) in which the panel consisted of Jones, the president of the Outer Banks “Preservation” Association (an ORV activist group), Dare County commissioner Warren Judge (a local politician so stupid he’s actively discouraging people from visiting Dare County, the county he represents), and a lone National Park Service official.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three opponents of the NPS plan versus one objective public bureaucrat. If it were meant to be a parody of congressional nepotism you really couldn’t have set it up better.
And all this over settled law. This picking at old wounds. And frankly, it’s not about the people of the Outer Banks anymore. Because if it were these groups would be helping local businesses adjust, they’d be encouraging out of state business to return and maybe even encouraging visitors on off-peak times when the beaches are wide open. But they’re not. They don’t care about Hatteras, they care about this grudge and their own wounded ego.
Because what happens if the economy bounces back and Hatteras recovers? What happens if tourists, inspired by the fabulous beaches and unencumbered by the stinking, smelly, dangerous ORVs, return in numbers the likes of which we saw before the recession hit? Then the ORV advocates lose. That’s why they lie about the true extent of closures at CHNS. That’s why they heavily imply that no one can visit the beaches anymore, or that there’s no place to fish or swim or surf. None of these things are true.
The fact of the matter is that any economy in an out of the way place that’s dependent on a long drive in a gas-guzzling vehicle is not long for this world regardless of any external restrictions placed on it. That’s an economy on life-support, and holding on like grim death to that way if doing things is a recipe for failure as certain as a turtle hatchling trapped in a wheel rut. And more, a resilient Hatteras is not in the interests of those who continue to fight the NPS, and with this subcommittee hearing and this Senate bill it’s more clear than ever that they’d rather see every single business on Hatteras fail than admit they were wrong. That’s what this is about anymore.
Many of the people of Hatteras have been fed these lies for far too long. One hopes that realize it before it’s too late.