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Permit likely to park on beach this summer

What started as a plan to require a permit to park on the northern beach turned into an idea for a permit to drive on the beach, then back again to a parking permit and was settled at the Board of Commissioners’ final meeting this month as a parking permit requirement. But not without some last minute tweaking.

And not without having to come back again at the board’s next meeting. The first reading of an ordinance amendment requires a unanimous vote for passage. Commissioner Mike Hall suggested the changes should not go into effect until next year and cast the one no-vote against the amendment, suggesting to wait and see if other changes, such as more signs and a new traffic pattern on the beach, will alleviate safety concerns.

When the item comes back in March, a majority vote will suffice for passage.

As proposed, people will still be able to access and drive on the 4X4 beach as usual. However, those who plan to spend some time there will need a parking permit. But,only from the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Parking permits will not be required any other time, but the regulations will apply to the entire beach from the Dare County line to the Virginia line.

Persons who are residents or who own property here can get their permits for free. Others will have to pay, in an amount still to be determined.

Residents and non-resident property owners can get permits that will be assigned to vehicles owned by them and insured, and residents can get two permits not assigned to a vehicle that can be used by guests. Property owners with north beach property in the rental program can get two free permits for each rental property.

Permits may be applied for online (the same for ORV permits), copies of necessary documentation can be faxed or mailed. Permits may be picked up or mailed. Locations where permits may be acquired in person are still to be determined.

The amount of the permit fee ($50 was mentioned a few times), the term of the permits (possibly ten days and annual) and the places and times where and when the permits can be obtained were left out of the ordinance so that changes can be made if and when needed without necessitating going through the procedure to amend the ordinance.

For residents or property owners to get free permits, a person will fill out an application, provide proof of vehicle ownership and insurance for each permit and proof of residency or property ownership. They will also have to acknowledge they read and are familiar with the county’s beach driving ordinances.

The process will be pretty much the same for persons who are not residents or property owners. They will fill out an application, provide proof of vehicle ownership and insurance, acknowledge they know the beach driving rules and pay the fee.

Violation of the rules can result in a permit being revoked for a year.

There are also exemptions, including for commercial fishermen while they are engaged in that business, persons participating in hunts sponsored on state and federal lands, county employees on the job, county and emergency vehicles, government vehicles engaged in research, the tour operators while conducting tours (they are already permitted).

Many of the requirements for the parking permits follow the requirements already in place for ORVs (Off Road Vehicles).

Prior to introducing the item, county attorney Ike McRee addressed some opinions that have been circulating that NC 12 technically extends onto the beach all the way to the Virginia line and therefore is state not county domain. However, the attorney referred to the county’s authority on the beach through ordinance and its policing powers authorized by the state. And in regard to the northern beach specifically, in 1985 the General Assembly gave the county authority to regulate, and even prohibit, vehicles on that beach.

During public comment, concern was raised that persons without a parking permit for the beach, will wind up parking on streets behind the dunes. In addressing that, McRee explained that the owners of the streets (property owners associations, developers) can request the county to adopt an ordinance regulating parking on their streets – as was done in other beach communities.

Also during public comment, speakers suggested the commissioners should work with the community to come up with other possible solutions to the safety concerns. But commissioner Marion Gilbert responded that the board has been discussing safety on the north beach for at least the eight years she has been on the board, and board chairman Bobby Hanig noted that only one beach citizen attended the recent public discussions the commissioners had about the permits.

However, while concerns were expressed by citizen speakers, most supported the commissioners’ efforts.

Representatives of several four-wheel drive organizations at the meeting pointed out that members conduct a beach clean up every fall and also contribute to the county by purchasing gas, food, etc. when day-tripping here to drive on the beach, and also suggested $50 to park is too high.

As to the fees, the chairman noted that the permits are not a money-maker for the county and that the funds collected will be used on the 4X4 beach. He said that safety is the reason for the permit plan and that north beach residents asked the commissioners to take control of that beach.

Chairman Hanig added that no ordinance is perfect, and that changes can be made as needed.