Speaking up, listening, the keys to doing the right thing

Published 5:05 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

Last month, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners weighed a proposal to allow a company in Aurora to buy a neighboring property owned by the county. The property that sits on Durham Creek was deeded to the county a century ago. It’s largely gone unnoticed since, except by the people who use it for a very specific purpose: access to the river.

On this land is a very small boat ramp, one of a handful of public boat ramps in the county. Next to the boat ramp is a very small dock. For the past many years, people in the area have taken it upon themselves to take care of the ramp and dock, making sure it’s been usable for those in the area who may have a boat, but no waterfront property on which to keep it.

Last year, county officials approached North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, with which the county has partnered on several public access boat ramps, about partnering again to revamp the Aurora ramp. WRC said no — it wasn’t a really workable space. Thus when approached by business officials next door about buying the property, county staff thought it could be a good plan.

On the surface, it was a good plan: the county owns plenty of property, much due to foreclosure for unpaid taxes, and commissioners have pledged to unload those properties in an effort to restore tax revenues once collected on them. However, one thing that commissioners are united on is residents’ access to Beaufort County’s greatest resource: the rivers that run through it.

The need for such access could be seen at last week’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Several people spoke to commissioners on behalf of all residents who use the ramp. Many others called commissioners to tell them how important it was to keep the ramp. One man even offered to buy it so he could keep the ramp open for everyone.

Commissioners voted not to sell the property because selling it would in no way benefit the residents of Beaufort County. With residents willing and able to take care of the property, at no expense to the county, it only made sense to keep it available for everyone.

There are two things to be learned from this. One is that commissioners continually make good on their promise to provide access to the river for all residents of the county, when access could be so easily consumed by private ownership of waterfront property.

Another is that participation by the average person in local politics can create change — or prevent it when it does not meet the needs of those who live here.

Commissioners, residents, both should be acknowledged for doing the right thing: on the one side, speaking up; the other, listening.