May 18, 2012
Lobbying in Raleigh against increased ferry tolls

By CONNIE LEINBACH



Hyde County officials joined more than 50 Beaufort and Pamlico county residents and officials Wednesday, May 16, in Raleigh on the first day of the General Assembly’s short summer session to lobby legislators against raising ferry tolls.

Attending from Hyde County were county manager Mazie Smith, commissioners Sharon Spencer and Darlene Styron, who represents Ocracoke, and Megan Shaw, Hyde County information officer.

Last year, the General Assembly ordered the N.C. Department of Transportation Ferry Division to increase revenue by $5 million by increasing ferry tolls on all the routes that now have tolls.

The toll on the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries to and from Ocracoke has been $15.  There has been no charge on passengers in a vehicle.

Under one pricing proposal from the Ferry Division, the toll for a vehicle would increase to $25 with a charge of $5 for each passenger, each way.

“Our activists were effective and highly visible on the first day of the 2012 legislative session,” noted Henri McClees, who with her husband, Joe, are lobbyists from Oriental who have been hired to wage the fight in Raleigh on behalf of Beaufort, Pamlico, and Hyde counties.

“It was widely known the “No Ferry Tax” folks were present in force,” Henri said. “We had a great day.”

Before the session began, the entire group met with Joe and received “no ferry tax” stickers and filled out forms to be delivered to legislators.

Rep. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort and Pitt counties stopped to show his support.

“You get a ‘no ferry tax’ sticker,” Joe McClees said to him.

As the group moved around to the various offices, Larry Summers, Oriental town commissioner, and Greg Piner of Oriental presented a petition with 1,009 signatures against raising ferry tolls to Bill Daughtridge, senior policy consultant for Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.

“We’ve got to have that access available to us,” Daughtridge, who is a former member of the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Board, told the group. “We appreciate your involvement.”

The group attended the session of the Joint Transportation Committee at 9 a.m. then broke into two groups to personally visit legislators tagged by the McCleeses.

Sen. Stan White, a Democrat who represents Dare and Hyde counties, met with the Hyde County group.

“The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is a tourist attraction,” White said. “I’ve heard tourists say they would pay a toll for that ferry, but if they have to pay, it would hurt us.”

More than that, White added, the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is part of Highway 12 and is the only free access islanders have.  Other tolled destinations have at least one free access to them.

“I don’t want to be part of a legislature that makes one place inaccessible,” White said about his continued fight.

He explained that many in the legislature just don’t understand life here on the Outer Banks. To educate them, White said he brought a group of Republican legislators to Dare County and took them fishing, clamming, and sightseeing.

They understood better after that, he said.

However, he noted that Ocracoke will be fighting this ferry toll issue every year, as long as Republicans control the legislature.

“The thing I’ve heard is they will postpone (enactment of higher tolls) to 2014,” White said.
Priorities in Raleigh are a “head-scratcher,” he noted.

“The thing that really gets to me is the Knightdale Bypass (outside Raleigh) costs $240 million a year and the entire Ferry Division costs $46 million a year,” he said.

“Raising ferry tolls really hurts the working people,” said Mazie Smith.

Norman Sanderson, a Republican who represents Craven and Pamlico counties, said he rides the ferry twice a day and told the Hyde County group that he would like to see a coastal coalition of legislators.

As for the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry, Sanderson said that the Department of Transportation a long time ago decided to run ferries there because they are cheaper than a bridge.

Both Styron and Smith were pleased with the efforts of the day and felt that the group’s presence in the halls of the legislature was important and noticed.

“It was well organized. The McCleeses had a plan, and that helped,” Styron  noted.
Both stressed that this fight is not over, and that citizens need to continue to make their wishes known.

“We have to stay on this,” Styron said.

When the General Assembly convened, some activists sat in the Senate gallery and some sat in the House gallery.

Each group was recognized by the presiding officer.  President of the Senate, Walter Dalton, specifically recognized the county commissioners and county managers from Beaufort, Hyde, and Pamlico.


TO READ MORE ON FERRY TOLLS

Lobbyists rally support for no ‘ferry tax’
Governor aiming to block ferry toll increases
Hyde County is gearing up to take on legislators over ferry tolls
Ocracokers turn out in force to oppose increase in ferry tolls


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