Outer Banks Sentinel
January 30, 2018
BY NEEL KELLER
Move comes as opposition to federal offshore plan mounts
As resistance builds to the offshore drilling proposal unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Jan. 4, Dare County has requested that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) schedule a public hearing in the county.
The only BOEM meeting scheduled so far in North Carolina has been set for Raleigh on Feb. 26, prompting complaints that it is not very accessible to those in the coastal communities who would be most affected by drilling in the Atlantic.
“Our citizens deserve the right to make their voices heard on this important issue,” said Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon. “Traveling to Raleigh does make that more difficult. So we would appreciate a local hearing.”
“Having only one hearing for the entire state,” added Kill Devil Hills Mayor Sheila Davies, “is not good public administration.”
In their Jan. 24 letter requesting a local hearing, the Dare Board of Commissioners asserted that the offshore drilling proposal’s “potential impacts…are of major concern to our coastal community. Our culture, heritage and economy are directly linked to the Atlantic Ocean and our people have a vested interest in this natural resource that is the cornerstone of our economy and future.”
The letter also requested a 60-day extension of the public comment period, currently set to end March 9. Similar letters have been sent by the Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners and the North Carolina Coastal Federation requesting additional meetings in Kill Devil Hills, Morehead City and Wilmington.
BOEM Media Manager Tracey Moriarty told the Sentinel that any rescheduled or additional meetings would be posted on the BOEM website and that no decision has yet been made to extend the 60-day comment period. “BOEM wants to hear from all voices as part of its public involvement process and recognizes that offshore oil and gas activities impact all parts of a coastal state,” she said. “As capital cities are meant to serve all of a state’s citizens and are generally located in a centralized location, the Department’s decision to hold meetings predominantly in state capitals will allow more convenient access for the full spectrum of interested stakeholders. For those who cannot attend in person, BOEM has also launched a virtual meeting room on our website to provide similar information and instructions for how to comment.”
Dare County’s request followed Zinke’s announcement of a sweeping new five-year offshore drilling plan proposing to make more than 90 percent of the total Outer Continental Shelf acreage available for exploration and development, with 47 potential lease sales. Nine of these are in the Atlantic region, with three of them in the Mid- and South Atlantic, which includes North Carolina.
Zinke announced that the program “proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.”
Since Zinke’s unveiling of the proposal, the governors of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York have requested that their states be exempt from the plan. In Florida’s case, that exemption has already been granted.
Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia said he has “some concerns with opening up Georgia’s pristine coastlines.” And the governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland have all stated they are opposed to drilling off their coasts.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper stated last week that, “This is what Washington needs to know: If North Carolina is not exempt from offshore drilling, we will sue the federal government.”
The effort to schedule a hearing in Dare County echoes back to just a few years ago when — after a significant lobbying campaign — BOEM added a Dare County public meeting in March 2015 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Kill Devil Hills. At that point, the anti-drilling forces were taking aim at an Obama Administration proposal that would have allowed for drilling in the Atlantic.
The event served to galvanize opposition to offshore drilling, drawing hundreds to the Comfort Inn next door to the Ramada, where passions ran high and speakers’ comments were frequently punctuated by applause and loud cheers. The crowd later gathered on the beach behind the Comfort Inn for a rally.
In May of that year, an estimated 300 Outer Banks residents locked hands on the beach at Nags Head to make a silent statement about opposition to offshore drilling. A few months later, on Aug. 28, dozens of protestors gathered in Manteo to demonstrate across the street from the building where then-Governor Pat McCrory, a supporter of offshore drilling, was holding a fundraiser.
Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation Co-chair Ivy Ingram said her organization “will be ecstatic if we see a repeat of 2015 with meetings added locally. Then I can assure you we’ll have a repeat of our record-breaking numbers.”
The 2015 protests proved effective. Before he left office in January 2017, President Obama had largely reversed himself on drilling, putting a permanent ban on offshore drilling in some portions of the Atlantic and denying permits for seismic testing.
At last week’s Jan. 22 meeting of the county commissioners, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten jump started the process of requesting an area meeting with his announcement that he had received a call from the office of 3rd District U.S. Congressman Walter Jones asking “were we interested in having a public hearing on the [offshore drilling] issue in Dare County?”
Quickly determining that the board was in agreement, Board Chairman Bob Woodard asked Outten to say yes, emphasizing, “Especially the way our citizens feel in Dare County.”
Agreeing that lobbying for a Dare County BOEM meeting proved effective in 2015, Outten told the Sentinel, “They certainly need to hear what the people in Dare County have to say.” He added that concerned citizens can send their own letters or electronically request a Dare County meeting online at the BOEM website.
People are also reminded that they can attend the public meeting in Raleigh, to be held on Feb. 26 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, 3415 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.
N.C. Coastal Federation Coastal Advocate Michael Flynn said the federation is coordinating bus trips from the north, central and southern coastal regions of the state to the Raleigh meeting. The Surfrider Foundation and town of Nags Head are also making preparations for traveling to Raleigh if no local meetings can be secured.
“If it stands that our only option is Raleigh, then road trip to Raleigh it is. And we’re taking as many people as we can with us,” said Ivy Ingram.