Category Archives: TRANSPORTATION

Feds want more ethanol

Critics hope comment period can derail proposal

NEWS1-Ethanol-pump-pic

Gordon Allison, Jr.

Gordon Allison, Jr.

By Gordon Allison, Jr.
News Analysis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Back in 2005, Congress passed a law titled the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires blending of ethanol – a type of alcohol — into our gasoline. It doesn’t matter that ethanol is made mostly from corn, and that its production boosts corn prices and increases pollution in our waterways.

Originally, this blending of ethanol and gasoline was called “Gasohol” and it was a 10 percent blend of alcohol with 90 percent straight gas. This is now called E-10. When the RFS law was written, it assumed that America’s use of gasoline would continue to increase. However, gasoline usage has dropped steadily since the law was passed.

Now the RFS law forces more ethanol into fewer gallons of gasoline. Hence, we have E-15 which is a blend of 15 percent alcohol with 85 percent gasoline. Twenty-three states, including North Carolina, allow this biofuel to be dispensed.

What could possibly go wrong?

For example, did you know that it is ILLEGAL to use E-15 in cars made before 2001, as well as in small engines such as outboard motors, motorcycles, snowmobiles, chain saws, string weed trimmers, and leaf blowers? Those small engines, include gas-powered motors for standby emergency AC generators – a crucial part of the infrastructure for our hurricane-prone area!

Alert readers may recall that only a few years ago it was discovered that good ole E-10 ate up fiberglass fuel tanks and destroyed perfectly good marine engines.

Oh, did I mention that a gallon of E-10 biofuel has only about 80 percent of the energy of straight gasoline! Guess what? E-15 will have even less energy per gallon, so gas mileage will diminish. There is supposed to be an orange warning label on the fuel pumps when E-15 is being sold. Sometimes the label is missing or “hidden” in plain sight with all the other signage on the pumps.

Biofuels containing gasoline and ethanol have a characteristic called phase separation. This is when an alcohol-blended fuel collects water, either from the atmosphere or from water entering the fuel chain via rusted tanks or leaving fill pipes open to rain.

Alcohol has a stronger affinity to water than to gas — so it leaves the gasoline and combines with the water, settling to the bottom of the fuel tank. Since the fuel pickup is usually in the bottom of the tank, the engine gets low octane fuel, which can ruin the engine even when there is enough gasoline in the tank.

Or, with a small amount of water, the gasoline that is left has lower octane as well, which can damage the engine too.

The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for comments on the agency’s proposal (EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0004) to increase the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply for 2017.

If adopted, these proposed levels will require the use of a record amount of ethanol, forcing higher-level fuel blends (including E-15 or 15 percent ethanol) into gas pumps and at more gas stations. It’s important to know that most marine engines are built to work only with up to 10 percent ethanol. Since most gas stations have only three grades of gas, some grade has to be dropped to accommodate the E-15 blend.

Most motorists and boat owners do not want the non-ethanol grade to be sacrificed!

A former neighbor was a petroleum engineer for Amoco. He told me that 87-octane fuel is made by taking mid-grade gasoline and adding stuff to it – in order to cut its octane rating. Mid-grade (89 to 90 octane) is pretty much as it comes out of the ground at the oil well, and high-test (91 to 93 octane) gas takes mid-grade and adds stuff to it to raise its octane rating.

So, if you want to keep your small engine-powered equipment and boat motors working for a very long time, use mid-grade, non-ethanol gas PERIOD.

Please take a few moments to send a message NOW urging the EPA to lower the ethanol mandates to 10 percent to ensure an adequate supply of fuel that will work in your boat, vehicle and airplanes (those that use automotive gasoline).

Beware! Even some cars and SUVs made in 2014 cannot use E-¬15. Contact your vehicle manufacturer to be sure your warranty isn’t voided with E-15 fuel! The deadline for your comments is July 11.

Editor’s note: Several options for comments are available:

WWW.Regulations.gov Follow directions for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0004.

Goo.gl/yczkuK

www.boatus.com/gov/RFS.asp

No Ferry Tolls! Three words legislators need to hear

Joe McClees and his wife Henri

Henri and Joe McClees are principals in an Oriental-based lobbying firm known as McClees Consulting.

By Henri & Joe McClees

RALEIGH – The NC House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 1030 (the 2016 Budget bill) with wonderful language to delete ferry tolls on all ferries and provide for a separate income stream to purchase ferry vessels. 

We appreciate the work of visionary members of the NC House who have not forgotten ferries are integral parts of coastal highways. The Budget work continues in the Senate. Senators are working quickly this week to respond to the House version of the 2016 Budget.

FIRST, we are asking readers of the County Compass to call or email your own state Senator and ask him or her to support the House approach to ferry funding. To obtain the contact information for all state Senators, you may visit www.ncleg.net. Click on “Senate”, and then “Senate Member List.”  If you are not sure which Senator represents you in Raleigh, click on “Who Represents Me?”

SECOND, call or email the Co-Chairmen of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation: Senator Wesley Meredith 919-733-5776wesley.meredith@ncleg.net and Senator Bill Rabon 919-733-5963,bill.rabon@ncleg.net, who are leading the Senate’s work on the transportation section of the 2016 Budget.

Ask Sen. Meredith and Sen. Rabon to adopt the House approach to ferry funding and stop ferry tolls.

THIRD, call or email all members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, who are now working together on the 2016 Transportation Budget:

Sen. Warren Daniel 919-715-7823warren.daniel@ncleg.net

Sen. Stan Bingham 919-733-5665stan.bingham@ncleg.net

Sen. Dan Blue 919-733-5752dan.blue@ncleg.net

Sen. Joel Ford 919-733-5955joel.ford@ncleg.net

Sen. Rick Gunn 919-301-1446rick.gunn@ncleg.net

Sen. Joyce Krawiec 919-733-7850joyce.krawiec@ncleg.net


Whenever you speak with, or email, our state Senators, respectfully ask them to adopt the House approach to ferry funding. Thank them for their service to North Carolina.  (Call or write a fresh email to these Senators). And freely forward your correspondence to friends and associates who are interested in maintaining ferries without oppressive tolls!

McClees Consulting and others ccntinue to work to persuade these Senators, but they need to hear from interested citizens.  The House version of the transportation section of the Budget contains the most progressive and innovative approach to long-term ferry funding.  Healthy economic development in eastern and coastal North Carolina is the best answer to funding ferries as well as paying for all transportation needs!  Our ferries are part of our highway system, and the House Budget recognizes this reality.  Please help us communicate these truths quickly.

Thank you for your continuing help and support.

Best regards,

Henri and Joe McClees

New ferry terminal at Cherry Branch underway

$1.9 million project ‘not linked in any way’ to possible tolls

tcc021016p1a

NEUSE RIVER – Describing the 9,000 square foot, super deluxe building as “expanded / improved facilities for the traveling public,” an official with the North Carolina Ferry System dismissed the suggestion this week that proposed tolls for the river crossing – still a possibility – might play some role in funding the almost $2 million structure.

“The old terminal at Cherry Branch is roughly 50 years old, and was due to be replaced,” wrote Ferry System spokesman Tim Hass, in an e-mail to this newspaper. “The new building is not linked in any way with the decision to toll / not toll.”

The money, said Hass, comes from a large source known as the Transportation Improvement Project fund, allocated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and “not from the Ferry Division budget.”

The contractor for the project is PRO Construction, based in Jacksonville, N.C. For the past several weeks, ferry system employees have been removing furniture, files, appliances, and other items. Demolition of the existing building has already begun, with an estimated completion date for the project of December 2016.

In February of 2012, a feisty crowd of 700-plus packed the auditorium of Pamlico Community College for a heated public hearing on what was then described as a legislative ‘mandate’ to impose tolls across all of the state’s ferry runs. Shortly after, small one-person, gray-painted toll collection booths popped up on both sides of the Neuse River – and remain in place.

Since then, however, state legislators – wary of voter payback – have tossed the hot potato issue onto obscure groups known as Rural Planning Organizations, which are comprised of appointed members.

In his e-mail, Hass made it clear that these groups are where any future tolling decisions will be made.

“In 2013, the General Assembly left those decisions to the local RPOs of each route. That is the law we operate under today. If the General Assembly decides to change the law to toll all routes, we will toll all routes. If they decide to toll none of the routes, we will toll none of the routes. It’s as simple as that.”

Loss of steering disables ferry with passengers on board

Eyewitness account at odds with official version

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

OCRACOKE – A press release issued by the North Carolina Ferry System suggests that a steering problem Saturday afternoon with the vessel Silver Lake was handled smoothly and efficiently.

However, real-time phone calls received by this newspaper from passengers on board the vessel paint a much different story. Here is the ferry system’s verbatim press release, as posted on the Department of Transportation website:

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry M/V Silver Lake returned to Ocracoke Sunday under tow after losing steering power and running soft-aground Saturday night. The incident happened about one mile south of Ocracoke as the Silver Lake was making its last run of the day to Cedar Island. The captain of the Silver Lake contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent a boat from its Hatteras Station to bring the ferry’s 14 passengers back to Ocracoke.

Mechanics and the crew remained on board the Silver Lake to perform repairs and wait for the arrival of the tugboat Royal Engineer. The passengers, crew and ship were never in any danger at any time.

Upon the arrival of the tug, the Silver Lake was towed back to Ocracoke, where the seven vehicles were unloaded and claimed by their owners. On Monday, the Royal Engineer was expected to tow the Silver Lake to the State Shipyard to be repaired and inspected before returning to service.

We have very detailed plans for when incidents like this occur, and they were followed to the letter,” said NCDOT Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “The safety of our passengers and crews are our top priority at all times. We certainly apologize for the inconvenience these passengers had to deal with, but we are grateful that they are all safely back on shore. We want to thank the US Coast Guard for assisting us during this incident.”

While confirming that the passengers and crew were never in any danger, one passenger who called the newspaper – while the boat was drifting – hinted that a belated decision to deploy the anchor was fraught with problems.

It took six people working hard to get that anchor out of its cradle,” said the passenger. “And then they discovered that there was not but about 40 or 50 feet of chain, which was certainly not enough to hold that boat.”

On Monday, the County Compass submitted questions and a Public Records request for more documentation about the incident. The next day, Tim Hass, public information officer for the ferry system, e-mailed his responses:

First of all, what most laypeople don’t understand is that dropping anchor is a last resort in cases like the one Saturday. The captain of the Silver Lake first tried to maintain steerage in deep water with his bow thrusters. Once that was no longer possible, the decision was made to drop anchor. All of which was done per the USCG-approved training our people receive on such procedures.

There was no “incorrect turn” upon leaving Ocracoke. The captain of the Silver Lake had complete control of the vessel until the point at which the steering failed.

As per your requests:

1)  Has the captain filed a written report? If so, I would like to request a copy.

Yes, the Captain has filed a written report with the US Coast Guard per standard operating procedure. We are unable to release that report until the Coast Guard’s incident investigation is complete.

2)  Have any of the passengers filed a complaint, either formally or informally?

No.

3)  Did the state pay for overnight accommodations, meals, etc?  If so, may I have a detailed accounting of those figures –

including name of motel, restaurants, etc. 

The state did pay for overnight accommodations for passengers at the Pony Island Motel in Ocracoke. Those receipts have not been closed out through our accounting process at this time, so I have no dollar figures to give you. The state did not pay for any meals.

4)  May I have a copy of the relevant “detailed plans” cited by  Director Goodwin in the press release?

The “detailed plans” were developed with, and approved by, the United States Coast Guard. They are attached.

5) Will you, or anyone with the Ferry System, prepare a  blow-by-blow account of the incident, including an approximate

Timeline?

This is what I have (times approximate):

  • 1600 Saturday – Vessel Leaves Silver Lake Terminal in Ocracoke.
  • 1630 Saturday – Vessel reports steering failure
  • 1700 Saturday – Vessel runs soft aground, contacts Coast Guard; USCG dispatches boat from Hatteras to respond.
  • 2030 Saturday – USCG boat arrives, removes passengers from ferry; crew and mechanics remain on board to troubleshoot steering failure
  • 2130 Saturday – All passengers safely returned to Ocracoke Silver Lake Ferry Terminal
  • 0200 Sunday – Tug Royal Engineer departs Morehead City to assist refloating of Silver Lake
  • 1300 Sunday – Relief ferry crew arrives to replace Silver Lake crew.
  • 1400 Sunday – Royal Engineer arrives on scene, tows Silver Lake back to Ocracoke where cars are removed and passengers notified.
  • 0700 Monday – Royal Engineer & Silver Lake depart Ocracoke enroute to Manns Harbor
  • 1530 Monday – Silver Lake arrives at State Shipyard in Manns Harbor for repairs and inspection.

6) Number of passengers // number of vehicles on board the Vessel.

14 passengers

7 vehicles

I guess the point I’d like to stress here is that while the Silver Lake did lose steering and ran soft aground, our procedures assured that there were NO injuries to any passengers or crew members, NO damage to vehicles or the ferry, and NO pollution or environmental damage. The boat is now being repaired here in Manns Harbor, and if all goes as scheduled, should be back in service by the end of the week. That pretty much sums it up.

THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENT, SUBMITTED ON OFFICIAL LETTERHEAD OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, OUTLINES THE RELEVANT PROCEDURES FOR THIS TYPE OF INCIDENT:

Procedure for dealing with a grounded vessel

The purpose of this procedure is for operations to have a clear understanding on the protocol for dealing with a grounded vessel. This is to be used as a guide due to the fact the each grounding is unique and presents its own challenges.

The following steps should be followed if a vessel is hard aground:

  1. Have engineer check/or assign a crew member to check the voids to assure that there is no apparent damage to the hull and no flooding in any compartments.

  2. Assure the safety of all passengers on board. Address those passengers needing first aid.

  3. Contact the USCG Sector NC at 910-343-3882 or via VHF. Ask for the prevention duty officer. Please explain the situation and include the location of the grounding and the number of passengers on board.

  4. Have OPS manager contact the Ferry Director and Deputy Director and brief them on the situation.

  5. OPS Manager contact Public Relations Representative for media control.

  6. Attempt to free vessel under its own power. Keep constant communication with the engine room to assure that the engines are not overheating and that there are no other problems. (Recommendation to work backwards in the direction you came from).

  7. Make sure that the passengers are aware of the situation and keep them posted at all times. Communication with the passengers is paramount and needs the highest attention by ALL CREW members. (This goes a long way with the public!). Ask if there are any medical conditions that need immediate attention. If there is a medical concern call the USCG and make sure they are aware so they can assist in removing them from the vessel. If the grounding is such that the boat is not able to be freed immediately talk to the Ferry Director/USCG about removing passengers. Ensure those passengers that disembark the ferry leave their vehicle keys with the Master. If there are passengers that choose to stay onboard while it is aground, relocate passengers to a safe area.

  8. A crew member is to remain with the passengers at all times.

  9. As soon as possible crewmembers are to be drug and alcohol tested according to federal requirements. If necessary a relief crew may be called in to accommodate testing.

  10. Procedures for the safe removal of passengers will greatly depend on the weather and grounding location of vessel but may include the use of another ferry if possible or assistance of other local services. This decision will be a joint decision by the Master, Director, Operation Manager and USCG.

  11. Operations Managers are to make every effort to have food and drink brought to the vessel as needed.

  12. If the boat remains grounded and the tidal change is not helping free the vessel the following actions need to happen next.

  1. NCDOT Ferry Director or other directed person to discuss with CG to have an assist tug help with un-grounding the ferry.

  2. The Operations manager or Deputy Director of Operations will call Call Lance Winslow and check on the tug’s availability.

  3. Future plan is to have the following tugs assigned to the following OPS.

Hatteras: BUCK TAYLOR

Cherry Branch: DARE

The ALBEMARLE can be used depending on location and availability.

  1. If a tug is available and the decision has been made to use it, make sure ALL PASSENGERS are sent to the passenger lounge and are out of the way of the towing operation.

  2. If a tug is not available please contact Ferry Director and Deputy Director for further guidance.

  3. A rapid salvage survey may be filled out and kept on board for future reference and reporting.

Loss of steering disables ferry with 14 passengers on board

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

(MANNS HARBOR) – The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry M/V Silver Lake returned to Ocracoke Sunday under tow after losing steering power and running soft-aground Saturday night.

The incident happened about one mile south of Ocracoke as the Silver Lake was making its last run of the day to Cedar Island. The captain of the Silver Lake contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent a boat from its Hatteras Station to bring the ferry’s 14 passengers back to Ocracoke. Mechanics and the crew remained on board the Silver Lake to perform repairs and wait for the arrival of the tugboat Royal Engineer.

The passengers, crew and ship were never in any danger at any time.

Upon the arrival of the tug, the Silver Lake was towed back to Ocracoke, where the seven vehicles were unloaded and claimed by their owners. On Monday, the Royal Engineer was expected to tow the Silver Lake to the State Shipyard to be repaired and inspected before returning to service.

“We have very detailed plans for when incidents like this occur, and they were followed to the letter,” said NCDOT Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “The safety of our passengers and crews are our top priority at all times. We certainly apologize for the inconvenience these passengers had to deal with, but we are grateful that they are all safely back on shore. We want to thank the US Coast Guard for assisting us during this incident.”

State highway officials respond

Change unlikely to ‘Extreme Makeover’ in Bridgeton

Motorists from Blueberry Lane are now prohibited from turning left. The mandatory right turn adds more than a mile, plus at least five minutes, for those who want to head east on Highway 55.

Motorists from Blueberry Lane are now prohibited from turning left. The mandatory right turn adds more than a mile, plus at least five minutes, for those who want to head east on Highway 55.

By Terry Leigh McCune | Staff Writer

BRIDGETON — Last week I e-mailed some questions to the North Carolina Department of Transportation concerning the installation of a new traffic island at the intersection at Blueberry Lane and Hwy. 55 in Bridgeton:

Q – How did you determine that a new traffic intersection was needed there?

A – The location was identified by the 2013 Highway Safety Improvement Program due to meeting criteria for chronic frontal impact crashes.  Complaints had also been received by local elected officials and passed along to NCDOT for investigation. 

Q – Why did you choose this type of intersection, which I think is called either a Superstreet or J-Turn?

A – Installation of channelization as constructed at this location is expected to significantly reduce the number of frontal impact crashes (estimated at 51 percent), which are typically the most severe. 

Q – Can you give us examples of other locations in North Carolina where this has been used successfully?

A – Similar installations exist on US 70 at Sam Garner Road in Carteret County,  US 70 at Bayberry Road in Newport, US 70 at Cannon Boulevard in Newport, US 70 at West Chatham in Newport, US 70 at Ebeneezer Church Road in Wayne County and numerous locations on US 17 north of Washington in Beaufort County. 

Q – Why didn’t you install a traffic light there instead?

A – A traffic count conducted at this location on December 4, 2012, indicated there were insufficient traffic volumes on the side streets to justify signalization.  Additionally, placement of a signal at this intersection is not advisable due to eastbound traffic on NC 55 coming off of a freeway facility and around a curve.  Drivers unfamiliar with this location would not be expecting to see a signal.

Q – Are there plans to possibly modify the intersection in the future so motorists coming out from Blueberry Lane can go East on Hwy 55 after a U-turn?

A – There are no plans to allow motorists coming out of Blueberry to make a U-turn to go east on NC 55 due to the close proximity of the US 17 interchange. 

Q – Approximately how much did this intersection cost to install?

A – All work at the intersection, which included the channelization, bulb-out, right turn lane extension, signing and pavement markings cost approximately $64,000 to construct.

As a reporter for the County Compass, I want to thank Brian Rick, Communications Officer of Divisions 2 & 3 for the North Carolina Department of Transportation for responding so quickly! I guess people coming out of Blueberry Lane will have to turn right from now on.

What the #@*%& happened to this intersection?

Accidents loom, say regular motorists

Looking east at the scary intersection

Looking east at the scary intersection.

Perhaps the screwiest U-turn in eastern North Carolina.

Perhaps the screwiest U-turn in eastern North Carolina.

By Terry Leigh McCune | Staff Writer

BRIDGETON – The new traffic island – if that’s what you call it — at the intersection of Highway 55 and Blueberry Lane, near the Bridgeton Food Lion grocery store is beyond belief!

I don’t know what the Department of Transportation had in mind when they designed this thing. County Compass reader Frank Owen sent a Letter to the Editor last week this fiasco. I agree with him! State taxpayers could have saved thousands putting up something different.

Last Thursday, Sept. 25, just past noon, as I was driving west toward New Bern on Highway 55, I experienced the dangerous incident of a car heading directly toward me on my side of this lovely new divider!

Apparently, the motorist – probably very confused — decided to ignore the No Left Turn Sign at Blueberry Lane in a futile attempt to reach an eastbound lane of Hwy 55. I immediately swerved, as did other drivers, and we narrowly averted getting hit head on by this wayward vehicle.

Fortunately, after the near miss, whoever was driving managed to get onto the correct side of this busy four-lane thoroughfare. Thank goodness!

The theory behind this screwy design is that people trying to get to Pamlico County from Blueberry Lane will turn right – which is a 180-degree about face from the normal driving procedure. If heaven is with them, motorists will have the wisdom to take the very first exit, returning to the Town of Bridgeton from whence they have just come.

On the other hand, others will probably be so confused that a trip to New Bern, across the long Neuse River bridge, is in the offing.

On the other side of Hwy. 55, people exiting from the Food Lion Shopping Center have no choice but to turn right, and then the west-bound folks must risk a really, really weird left U-turn onto a specially constructed half-moon piece of pavement. Yikes!!

Safety, of course, is the biggest issue, but I wonder how much business Food Lion and the other businesses in that complex have lost because nobody from Bridgeton or New Bern want to have to deal with the hassle of that intersection.

I know the Department of Transportation had the best of intentions. They attempted to modify a precarious intersection to avoid future accidents! However, I and many others are convinced the spot is now more dangerous than ever before!

Bypass fees could dwarf ferry tolls

By Bob Miller | Special to the County Compass

RALEIGH — Our legislators are once again trying to balance the budget in the face of recent tax cuts by placing “user fees” (a tax) on the ferry system. The justification is the need for $5 million a year to buy new ferry boats and to maintain the system, and they want local transportation advisory committees to buy into this idea.

The state also plans to spend $826 million over the next decade for bypasses around Goldsboro, Kinston, and Havelock to relieve congestion on State Highway 70 — yet there is no mention of user fees to help cover this cost.

If our elected officials truly believe in “user fees” to offset tax cuts, making the new bypasses toll roads will certainly help pay for the nearly $1 billion cost of these projects. The DOT already knows how to do this! They recently built a toll road in the Raleigh-Durham area. With EZ passes, all you have to do is sign up with the state, get a transponder to sit on your dashboard, and drive the speed limit. Overhead sensors record your transponder and the DOT bills your credit card. If you don’t have a transponder, the sensor will take a photo of your license plate and bill you.

According to the Department of Transportation, Hwy. 70 averages 20,000 vehicles per day between Havelock and Morehead City — for a total of 7.3 million trips per year. Enacting a toll of $1 for each bypass (Buck a Bypass) would raise nearly $22 million a year. Of course, not everyone will choose to use the bypasses, but even if only half make that choice that will still raise $11 million a year.

Sensors could be installed on the ferry ramps as well and charge a dollar a ride (Buck a Boat) and eliminate the cost of added personnel to collect tolls. Frequent commuters could purchase annual passes programmed into their transponder accounts.

If a person objects to the ‘Buck a Bypass’ tolls or cannot afford them, they can choose to drive through the communities along the way, which would likely be of economic benefit to those communities. There will be less congestion on the old roads, as most vacationers will want to get to the beaches fast.

What is good for coastal citizens must surely be good for the rest of our citizens. We already pay highway taxes for roads and ferries. If more is needed, then in interest of fair taxation all North Carolina citizens should have the opportunity to pay ‘user fees.’

Here we go all over again!

Another hearing on ferry tolls set for Feb. 6 at Community College

By Jeff Aydelette | Staff Writer

TCC021612001GRANTSBORO – Mark your calendars right now for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6th at Pamlico Community College. Exactly two years ago, 600 hopping mad, hornet-angry residents turned out en masse to decry a state government decree that would have imposed tolls for the ferries that cross the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers.

The boisterous session ran three hours, ending not a minute too soon for two high-ranking state officials and a private consultant.

The next day, a County Compass headline screamed ‘WE’RE SCREWED’ — an epithet used by Minnesott Beach resident Starr Murphy, to accurately reflect the sentiments for 99.9 percent of the attendees.

In hindsight, close observers of the toll debate pointed to the huge turnout that night as unprecedented, forcing at least a temporary postponement of fees for ferry crossings.

The M/V Pamlico is one of North Carolina’s oldest ferries, in operation since 1965.

The M/V Pamlico is one of North Carolina’s oldest ferries, in operation since 1965.

Since then, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved new legislation, mandating that new ferry acquisitions be funded through “Strategic Transportation Initiative” funding or by a combination of revenue-raising initiatives – to include tolling, advertising, and concessions.

State legislators passed the hot potato on to regional Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) or Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), which must request tolls before they can be approved by the state Board of Transportation.

At its recent December meeting, the Board of Transportation approved a tolling methodology based upon distances traveled, and would theoretically raise, if implemented, $5 million per year. No word on why the Board felt so compelled. Many insiders hint thE task should have been left to the RPOs and MPOs.

For more information about the upcoming hearing, please contact Jamille Robbins, NCDOT – Human Environment Section at (919) 707-6085 or jarobbins@ncdot.gov.

Robbins remembers Pamlico County. This Feb. 6 it’s up to us to remind him why!

Letters stall tolls – for now

 

But booth already gobbles power

Lights and heat pump for the unoccupied tollbooth now operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. An alert motorist snapped these photos Wednesday afternoon. Photocopies of the electric bill for this structure have been requested by The County Compass under the state’s Public Records law.

Lights and heat pump for the unoccupied tollbooth now operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. An alert motorist snapped these photos Wednesday afternoon. Photocopies of the electric bill for this structure have been requested by The County Compass under the state’s Public Records law.

By Henri McClees | Special to the County Compass

We have now stopped the new ferry toll rules by submitting more than 10 signed letters requesting legislative review pursuant to NC General Statutes Chapter 150B.

On Thursday, the NC Rules Review Commission meets in Raleigh. If 10 letters had not been submitted within one day after this Commission meeting, the new ferry toll rules would have automatically gone into effect, and tolls collection would be required starting July 1, 2013, regardless of what the legislature is doing.

This “Ten Letter Rule” is a method for citizens to object to a specific rule and ask the legislature to review the rule before it goes into effect. We, as citizens, wrote 10 letters, and we have triggered a legislative review of the proposed rules for the new ferry tolls. 

The writing of rules is a normal part of bureaucratic governance.  These rules were written as required by law because the legislature imposed new ferry tolls. The statute imposing new ferry tolls is two sentences long. The rules are several pages of detailed statements of the amount of tolls and other detailed information. The writing and implementation of rules is an important, but little known, part of the process of how a bill passed in the legislature “comes home” to impact your life.

The NC House Transportation Committee did not hear our ‘good ferry bill’ (House Bill 475, titled ‘Ferry Tolling Alternatives’) during its Tuesday meeting. We wanted them to recommend approval of this bill to their counterparts in the House, and we appreciate all of your calls and e-mails to them for this purpose. We expect to maintain our momentum for House Bill 475.  The bill sponsors are strong and enthusiastic.  We will let you know further progress as it happens next week.  Thank you for your help and continuing support!

Editor’s note: Henri McClees and her husband Joe are Oriental-based lobbyists hired by Pamlico, Beaufort, and Hyde Counties in an attempt to repeal, or negate, existing legislation that requires tolls for the first time on state-run ferries for crossings of the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers.