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Talks in Beach-Driving Lawsuit Stall

The two sides in a lawsuit that could end driving on some Outer Banks beaches have failed to reach an agreement, according to the Dare County Public Relations Department.

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Judge Drives Beach-Access Lawsuit Away From Ban, Toward Settlement
RALEIGH, N.C. — The two sides in a lawsuit over beach driving along Cape Hatteras beaches have failed to reach an agreement after a week of negotiations.

Lawyers for the defendants – the National Park Service and Dare County – and the plaintiffs – the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife – talked into Wednesday evening.

They considered standards for buffer zones around nesting birds that would allow opportunities for beach driving, according to the Dare's public-relations department.

The defendants claimed that the plaintiffs insisted on different conditions at Thursday morning meetings to finalize the agreement. Dare officials said the environmental groups wanted to expand the size of the buffers and eliminate five of six areas from consideration.

Attorneys for Dare and the NPS said they could not agree to those terms, and the settlement negotiations were officially terminated.

A date for a new court hearing has not been set.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the two environmental groups in October 2007. The lawsuit claimed the NPS' interim management plan did not provide adequate to nesting piping plovers and sea turtles along the federally protected coastline, including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Bodie and Ocracoke islands.

At a federal court hearing in Raleigh last Friday, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to ban beach driving while the lawsuit procedes. Instead, lawyers said they were close to an agreement, and U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle continued the case.

Locals argued that a ban or major restrictions on beach driving could severely damage the area's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. They also said it could cripple a part of local culture that has been popular since the 1930s.

Up to 2,000 vehicles a day can traverse the Outer Banks beaches.

In July 2007, Boyle ruled that the NPS' lack of a long-term management plan technically made beach driving illegal. In response, the NPS formed an interim plan, against which the Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife filed the lawsuit.

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Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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