Measure may get OK from anti-environmental House committee, but is unlikely to pass the Senate
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Fans of motorized beach access in North Carolina are hoping that Congress will overturn a public National Park Service planning process with a bill that would re-open parts of Cape Hatteras National Seashore to dune buggies and other vehicles.
As written, the bill would void a court-approved agreement that protects nesting and baby sea turtles and birds, as well as pedestrians at the seashore.
The 2012 settlement ended a lawsuit that began in 2007, when conservation groups went to court to try and get the park service to implement long overdue protections on park beaches overrun by off-road vehicles.
Conservation groups characterized the deal as a compromise that offered some protection for sea turtles and also enabled some access for dune buggies, a traditional historic use in the area.
When they announced the agreement, environmental emphasized that visitation and tourism revenues remained steady during an interim management period, showing that motorized restrictions won’t harm the local economy, as claimed by dune buggy advocates. At the same time, rare bird and sea turtle populations showed signs of recovery.
As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required under federal law since 1972 to establish guidelines that minimize harm from the use of off-road vehicles to the natural resources of the seashore in accordance with the best available science for present and future generations. The new rules bring the agency into compliance with that requirement.
The park service’s rules allow ORV use on the majority of the seashore. Twenty-eight of the seashore’s 67 miles are set aside as year-round ORV routes, with only 26 miles designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The remaining 13 miles of seashore are seasonally open to ORVs.