Local News

Seashore officials working on plan for beach driving

Posted July 19, 2007 8:01 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2008 12:59 a.m. EDT

— The superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore said Thursday that he has been working for months to finalize guidelines for vehicles driving on the shores of the barrier island.

In ruling on a case of a driver caught spinning out among the dunes during the Memorial Day weekend, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered Wednesday that all off-road driving be banned in the seashore. The National Park Service, the Department of Interior and towns along the seashore need to create a plan for driving on the beaches, the judge said.

The ruling, which affected beaches from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke Island, set off panic among fishermen and beachgoers, and Park Service rangers decided not to enforce the ban until they could get all of their questions about it answered.

"There clearly is a minority of folks that don't appreciate the privilege that is given to us," said fisherman Bernie McCants, who has caught red drum and speckled trout off the Outer Banks most of his life.

McCants said the Park Service needed to have a formal traffic restriction plan in place decades ago, but he said Boyle failed to acknowledge Superintendent Mike Murray's comprehensive efforts to change that.

"It was puzzling that he implied that there was no plan," he said.

Some areas on the beach are closed because of wildlife sanctuaries, and regulations already prohibit motorists from driving on sand dunes, speeding and driving drunk, Murray said.

Raleigh attorney Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor, said he doesn't think Boyle is about to shut down the beach. He said the judge only wants to send a strong signal to clarify beach traffic rules.

"I think the judge used the occasion of one guy driving recklessly to make a point," Shanahan said. "(The ruling says) we have environmentally sensitive areas that need to be protected (and) there are things that they're supposed to be doing that they're not doing."

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, who represents the Outer Banks, said that he trusts Boyle and the Park Service will eventually find a balance between access and environmental protection.

"There is room for both in my view. It's easy to accommodate the vehicles and the wildlife," said Basnight, D-Dare.