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House leaders propose sale of Jennette's Pier in Nags Head

Posted June 10, 2014

Families fish at Jennette's Pier

— A provision in the newly released House budget calls for the sale of Jennette's Pier, a facility the state spent about $25 million to rebuild just a few years ago.

House leaders say the provision, absent from the Senate's budget bill, is meant as an exploratory effort to find out how much the state can make from the Nags Head property. The pier is currently open to the public for fishing and other activities through the state's aquarium system.

Rep. Tom Murry, co-chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, said Tuesday that the House was interested in finding ways to boost funding to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The fund awards grants to nonprofits and governments for the cleanup and protection of lakes and rivers.

"I'm not interested in losing money, but we're looking at the assets we have," Murry said.  "If there's an opportunity to capitalize further the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and make money on a state asset, I think that's prudent."

After Hurricane Isabel decimated the original 1939 pier in September 2003, lawmakers unanimously approved $25 million to replace the pier in April 2009 as an outreach facility for the aquarium.

But as the economic realities of the recession set in, those same lawmakers drew criticism from groups that saw their funding slashed. That prompted some to change their tune.

"A lot of things that may have looked like a good thing a month ago, two months ago or a year ago, may not be such a good idea now," Sen. Phil Berger, who now leads the Senate as its top Republican, told WRAL News in 2009.

Opponents of the budget measure say it makes no sense to sell the refurbished property, which opened its doors just three years ago.

"It's been a great, wonderful addition to the town of Nags Head, the county of Dare and the state of North Carolina – and then some," Cliff Ogburn, Nags Head town manager, said Tuesday.

Ogburn didn't hear about the provision to sell the pier until Tuesday afternoon, when he was contacted by WRAL News. But he said he was alarmed at the prospect of a privately owned Jennette's Pier, especially when the city contributed $300,000 to the project at its inception.

"I envision a complete 180 from conservation, education and management of the natural resource," Ogburn said. "Commercialization is just complete opposite use."

Murry said the purpose of the provision is to figure out whether the state can actually sell it at fair market value, as required in the bill. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which houses the aquarium, must report its efforts to sell the property to lawmakers by April 2015, if the bill passes.

"I would consider it exploratory at this point," Murry said. "I don't think we'd be good fiduciaries if we sold something at a loss."

Democratic Rep. Paul Tine, who represents Dare County, said he doesn't think the bill is strong enough to ensure that doesn't happen. He plans to introduce an amendment that would set a minimum purchase price to repay the almost $37 million he calculates the state, county, municipalities and others have spent on the pier so far.

"They should be made whole," Tine said. "We shouldn't have a fire sale at a lower point in the market and not be able to recoup money we spent."

He added that even though the pier is breaking even, it provides important benefits to those who want to experience state shores.

"There's a value that people have access to our waters and our beaches," Tine said. "If it's in private hands, you could have restriction to that access."

The measure was approved unanimously in House subcommittee Tuesday, along with the remainder of provisions dealing with natural and economic resources. On Wednesday, the proposal goes before the full House Finance and Appropriations committees.

It's required to receive two votes before the full House, tentatively scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

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  • Robert Batrado Jun 12, 2014
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    The state added a mandatory $2 walk-on fee to Jennette's in the budget during last year's session, which went into effect a couple months ago. So it's not free any more to begin with.

    As to the notion of turning it over to private interests, one only has to look at the privately owned piers in the area, including the former Jennette's Pier to see where that leads.

  • flyfish42 Jun 11, 2014

    This appears to be a national GOP scheme. Get elected, then raid publicly-owned assets and sell them to your developer buddies for fun and profit, at the expense of the taxpayers.

  • Carl Keehn Jun 11, 2014
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    The issue with coal dust dumps was not recognized nationally as a critical issue until December of 2008 when a major breach at the Kingston Fossil Plant brought the issue to national attention. At that time North Carolina realized that they too could have a problem and began to study the issue. Just as DENR was about to release a report on the issue and the concerns raised, the new Legislature of 2011 gutted funding and hamstrung DENR's ability to regulate. This would come to haunt us 3 years later.

  • ncprr1 Jun 11, 2014

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    Democrats blew $25Million+ on this place, while letting the coal ash ponds fester. No, contrary to liberal propaganda, they didn't just appear over the past three years. Now the Republicans are cleaning them up and getting rid of waste, like this place and that idiotic helicopter, that should be handled by private business. Watch and learn liberals.

  • dib Jun 11, 2014

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    So corporate owned public property is a good tradition? I'd like to be able to walk down a pier without having to pay. Many states have public piers. It's sad to think we are going to prevent people from seeing our state unless they pay for every little thing. I have a hard time finding public access to a beach unless I have a hotel or something on the beach. I don't think this idea would make the beaches anymore accessible or enjoyable for people.

  • funnything Jun 11, 2014

    "the House was interested in finding ways to boost funding to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The fund awards grants to nonprofits and governments for the cleanup and protection of lakes and rivers."

    let' see now, who needs money to clean up a recent river disaster?

    can you say "coal ash"? state sells for 25 mil. gives the money to duke energy. don't be surprised.

  • ericevenson Jun 10, 2014

    Ocean pier fishing is a great NC tradition. Our private fishing piers are well run businesses, e.g. Surf City Pier, Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, etc.

  • foetine Jun 10, 2014

    State spends $25 million to rebuild, sells it to a local businessman for $25 - another racket.

  • Anita Woody Jun 10, 2014

    I wonder if they'll put it up on Ebay, too? It's been a success I hear for unloading stuff. lol