Threat of ferry tolls surfaces yet again!

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Big turnout for public hearing helped derail issue way back in 2012

Henri & Joe McClees

EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA – Independent operatives, Joe and Henri McClees, who monitor pending state legislation, rules, and regulations on behalf of six counties in eastern North Carolina, reported this week that an un-named ‘Basement Bureaucrat’ in Raleigh has resurrected the highly contentious ferry toll issue.

Exactly six years ago here in Pamlico County, 600 hopping mad, hornet-angry residents showed up en masse to decry a state government decree that would have imposed tolls for the ferries, which routinely 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, charged with conveying the bad news.


The next day, a County Compass headline screamed ‘WE”RE SCREWED’ – an epithet used by a Minnesott Beach resident to accurately reflect the sentiments for 99.9 percent of the hearing’s attendees. In hindsight, close observers of the debate credited the overwhelming opposition voiced that night as perhaps a big reason for a temporary postponement.

Actually, it gave Joe & Henri McClees the ammunition they needed. The married couple (who reside in Oriental) began to actively lobby decision makers in the General Assembly, ultimately succeeding in pushing proposed ferry tolls to the far back burner of the legislative stovetop.

Until January 20 of this year.

In a newsletter e-mailed Saturday to the County Commissioners and County Managers of Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Hyde, Pamlico, and Pasquotank counties, Joe & Henri (experienced lobbyists) pulled few, if any, punches:

This basement bureaucrat in Raleigh has published a 45-page study recommending fewer runs, higher tolls, and other “cost savings” for the NC Ferry Division. We attended this Program Evaluation Division (PED) employees meeting in Edenton on 1/20/2018. The basement bureaucrat opened the meeting by joking that he had never ridden on a ferry. 

It did not take us long to realize he knew nothing about ferries or Coastal NC.  He had traveled from Raleigh that morning, bringing with him a fully developed set of preconceived ideas. He inserted many of those fixed ideas into a study entitled “Reducing Off-Season Crossings, Adjusting Fares, and Using Partnerships Can Improve Ferry Division Efficiency.”

“Cost savings” translates into a disaster for coastal citizens. We use our ferries as moving bridges, traveling for work, school, medical care, shopping, and the other tasks of life. Ferries help address the physical realities of the geography of coastal North Carolina. Our Coastal Plain drains the Piedmont. When it rains in Raleigh, the water flows past us, and we drive or float over it.

Bridges and ferries are necessary, but they can no more be profitable to the State’s coffers than mountain roads and bridges spanning the Appalachian Mountains can be profitable. Profitability is not a proper measure for providing essential roads for citizens of our far-flung eastern and western regions.

Our citizens need transportation pathway!  As our State’s leaders work to remove hindrances to economic growth, we must not erect bureaucratic roadblocks to vulnerable citizens in some of the poorest regions of the State.

For example, on Page 7, the Program Evaluation Division study states its #1 Finding: “The Ferry Division can save more than $1.5 million annually by reducing the number of crossings on routes during periods with lower use.”

Although there is an attempt to justify this finding, the reality is residents would lose ferry access for most business hours for most of the year.

Ocracoke Island has the most expensive routes. Ocracoke Island has no bridges and would suffer the most reductions under the bureaucrat’s plan. There is no consideration given to the resulting hardships for businesses on Ocracoke Island when vendors, contractors, and full-time residents would find economic activities stalled and other necessary activities frustrated.

This  basement bureaucrat emphasized the low percentage of operating expenditures covered by fare revenue, (Pages 12-13).  He suggests the Washington State Ferry System is a good model for North Carolina to follow!?

Washington has the most extensive ferry system in the USA, in which all are tolled routes. For example, a commuter who lives on Bainbridge Island and commutes into Seattle for work pays a toll. His cheapest option is to purchase what is known as a ‘Wave2Go’ multi-ride card for $241 – allowing 20 trips or 10 roundtrips.

That is a $241 cost for just two weeks, assuming five days per week!!  On average, the worker’s ferry tolls will cost $522.00 per month, or $6,264 for an entire year! Kiplinger, from data gleaned in 2017, rates Seattle, Wash. as the nation’s tenth most expensive city in which to live! It is one of the fastest growing cities in the USA, and housing-related costs for renters and homeowners are nearly 80 percent higher than the US average.

We are sure that you will agree — Seattle is a stunningly flawed comparison to the coastal counties of North Carolina. Of the 20 coastal counties here in North Carolina, almost half are losing population.  Nine (9) of these counties are projected to lose population between 2010-2020; six (6) to have low net-in migration; only one (1) to have medium growth, and only four (4) to have high population growth.

This recent study, with its use of questionable data and superficial conclusions, fails to provide a reasonable assessment of the environment in which our ferries operate.  The comparisons used within this Program Evaluation Division study reveal the author’s ignorance of the economic realities in Coastal NC.  The opinions of this basement bureaucrat (his office is in the basement of the Legislative Office Building) cannot provide a sure foundation for anything.

Joe McClees is in the process of alerting certain state legislators to the flaws in this study. We will have much more to report later. 


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