Last call on ferry hearing

Published 8:36 pm Saturday, March 17, 2012

A public hearing regarding the ferry tolls will be held Monday in the Delamar Auditorium at Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro.

In the “Current Operations and Capital Improvement Appropriations Act of 2011,” the N.C. General Assembly voted to raise ferry tolls where tolls previously existed, and establish new ones for previously free ferries. The language of the act plainly states that “the Board of Transportation shall consider the needs of commuters and other frequent passengers,” when addressing the issue.

Monday’s meeting represents the last event in which the public’s input is requested.

“The long and short of it is that I would like any and all Beaufort County citizens to come voice their opinions,” said Joe McClees, a lobbyist for McClees Consulting, the firm hired to represent Beaufort County’s interests regarding the ferry to state legislators. “The more people we have coming from Beaufort, Pamlico, and Hyde counties and speaking, the better.”

McClees said he’s expecting 500 to 600 people at the hearing about the proposed tolls on the Aurora-Bayview ferry, the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Point ferry, and the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferry. The N.C. Dept. of Transportation estimated that in 2011, more than 90 percent of passengers on the Aurora-Bayview and Minnesott Beach-Cherry Point ferries were commuting to work to PotashCorp Aurora or Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Though Gov. Beverly Perdue signed into effect Executive Order 116, which put a moratorium on the collection of tolls scheduled to start April 1, the issue is in limbo, the legality of Perdue’s moratorium being questioned by lawmakers in Raleigh.

“This thing is far from over,” said McClees, explaining that the eastern region of North Carolina was economically dealt a near-mortal blow by Hurricane Irene.

“This won’t be a short-term recovery,” said McClees. “On top of that, people who work in these areas really don’t need any more burden. I would have a hard time fighting for this if we had a ‘go, go’ economy like we did 10 years ago. But bottom line is, we have had an economic disaster.”

According to McClees, the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners has rescheduled its meeting originally slated for the same day and time, so that they can attend the public hearing.

The hearing starts at 7 p.m., but McClees suggested that those who want to participate arrive 45 minutes in advance.

Pamlico Community College is located at 5049 N.C. Highway 306 South, Grantsboro, NC 28529.