Nags Head, N.C. — Outer Banks tourists and residents are voicing opposition to a legislative proposal to sell Jennette's Pier, an attraction that's part of the North Carolina Aquariums.
Lawmakers will consider the provision as they meet over the coming days to hash out competing versions of the state budget. The proposed sale wasn't included in the Senate budget, but House leaders consider it an opportunity to see how much the state can make off the Nags Head property – and how that money might bolster other state programs.
"It's a tool we are looking at to capitalize the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and look at state assets we could make money off of," Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, said.
But visitors to the facility, which is open to the public for fishing and other activities, say they don't think the pier would flourish under private ownership.
"That would be a shame," said Yvonne DuBuy, a tourist who fishes at Jennette's Pier every time she's in town. "We don't want some city developer to get a hold of it. It would be a crime."
Jennette's Pier opened its doors only three years ago after a $25 million reconstruction project unanimously approved by the General Assembly in 2009. As part of that effort, local governments also pitched in money to get the facility back in operation after Hurricane Isabel destroyed most of it in 2003. For Nags Head, that amounted to $300,000.
Nags Head Mayor Bob Edwards says an existing agreement between the city and the state would make selling the pier a breach of contract.
"This is a perpetual agreement with no termination date on it," Edwards said.
Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Warren Judge said he never thought this would be an option for a facility that has proved to be so popular with tourists.
"This has become a regular stop in their tour to the Outer Banks now – spending a day at the pier, learning about life in the sea, on the sea and under the sea," Judge said.
He already sees it as a historic landmark, even if it was rebuilt only a few years ago.
"This is part of North Carolina," Judge said. "If government doesn't preserve our culture, our heritage and our history, the private sector won't do a good job at doing that."