SCOTT MOONEYHAM: On Seashore, Compromise or Don't
U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle might want to read up on Outer Banks history before taking another step in the dispute over four-wheeling on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Like the piping plover at the heart of the dispute, Boyle is a strange bird. He's a conservative with a conservationist streak. That makeup served the interests of local residents and the environment well when Boyle ruled against the U.S. Navy when it tried to put a touch-and-go airstrip in rural Washington County.
This time, though, the interests of local residents and the future of a bird don't fit so neatly together.
Environmentalists have sued National Park Service officials because they've continued to allow four-wheeling on the beaches despite the dwindling population of the piping plover, a small shore bird that has a tendency to lay its eggs in some not-so-smart places.
Typically, the bird looks for hard areas formed by shell beds, and some of those tend to be closer to the water's edge rather than back in the dunes. Of course, those are also the places that attract people and vehicles.
So, for several years, the park service has cordoned off areas and tried to direct people away from the bird nests -- which many years you could count on two hands. Environmentalists weren't satisfied, discovered the Park Service didn't have a formal plan for off-road driving, as seemed to be required by law, and sued.
Boyle recently ordered the Park Service and environmentalists to come up with a settlement. But most likely to be hurt are local residents, who depend on the tourists dollars generated by vacationers attracted to undeveloped beaches where people can haul themselves and a day's supplies right to the waves.
What Boyle may need to read up on is that the national seashore is the result of compromise. It wasn't created from some vast unpopulated wilderness. People lived and thrived and died along those barrier islands for centuries before there was a national seashore.
When the federal government began buying up the land in the 1930s, some wanted it and saw opportunity in it. Others hated it and wanted the government to go away.
If the national seashore hadn't been established, the stretch would look like Nags Head or Atlantic Beach or any of the other developed barrier island communities along the coast. Thankfully, it doesn't. It is a national treasure and should be protected.
But these aren't unpopulated islands. Portions of them are not national seashore. People and their homes are as much a part of the environment as birds and their nests.
If Boyle and the Department of the Interior now want the islands to be unpopulated, if they're tired of forging compromises between residents and birds, developed and undeveloped, let them come up with the $20 billion, or $40 billion, or whatever it takes to buy out everyone.
Let's create new abandoned villages like Portsmouths, in Ocracoke, Avon, Buxton and Hatteras.
The residents are waiting for their check.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story