Nags Head cancels July 4 celebration, suspends recycling program

Published 8:02 pm Saturday, May 9, 2020

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At their monthly meeting on May 6, the Nags Head Board of Commissioners had some heavy decisions to make regarding their July 4 fireworks celebration and recycling. Commissioners also deliberated the flood damage prevention ordinance and received updates on the plans for summer 2020.

Town manager Cliff Ogburn addressed the $25,000 contract for a 2020 fireworks display, noting that a decision to cancel would need to be made by the end May. “It breaks my heart, but I think this year we need to be cautious,” commissioner Renee Cahoon said.

She expressed the need to discourage mass gatherings of this caliber, and noted that the town does not have enough of a police force to stop such a gathering. “Fireworks, by its very nature, creates congregations of people,” commissioner Webb Fuller agreed. “It’s sad, it’s frustrating, but it’s the more responsible thing to do.”

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In a 4-1 vote, the board approved canceling the 2020 fireworks display. Mayor Ben Cahoon cast the dissenting vote. “I needed to vote with my heart just once in this whole process,” he said.

As for recycling, Ogburn presented some new information. However, he felt this update would not “change the direction that recycling is going to go.”

At their last meeting, Ogburn told the commissioners that a new recycling facility in Portsmouth, Va., Recycling & Disposal Solutions (RDS), was interested in contracting with the town as a new processing site for recyclables.

Previously, they had asked for a 5-year commitment and would charge for contaminated items that exceeded 12% of a load. Since then, they have increased the rate for contaminated items to 18%, but Ogburn still felt this was not high enough.

Bay Disposal, the current contracted company which has been hauling recyclables to the Wheelabrator facility, met with RDS to discuss entering into a contract directly. This would eliminate the need for Nags Head to hold two separate contracts, one with RDS and one with Bay.

“If that was something in place, I would recommend you to consider recycling,” Ogburn said. But with another two to three-week time span for RDS and Bay to potentially enter into an agreement, Ogburn said “time is of the essence,” and a decision would need to be made sooner than that.

“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t come together in time,” Mayor Cahoon said, “but we are in a position where we need to make a decision.” With the idea that the town could easily resume recycling in May of 2021, the commissioners unanimously decided to suspend their recycling program until a date to be determined.

As for the summer, the budget cuts to lifeguard salaries are now off the table. “When we originally starting looking at budget cuts, we certainly weren’t anticipating visitors would be back as early as May 16,” Ogburn admitted.

The summer will start off with 21 lifeguards manning10 of the 15 stands across Nags Head beach. Ogburn reported that 16 J-1 students are still waiting to hear if restrictions for travel are lifted on June 15, but were listed to work this summer.

All ocean rescue/lifeguard staff has agreed to uphold social distancing guidelines. They have been trained to clearly communicate the necessary 6 feet apart rule and not gather in crowds of 10 or more individuals.

Universal signage will be posted at all beach accesses and health screenings for staff will take place in the morning and evening to ensure safety and health. Ogburn said all staff will also be provided with CPR masks.

As for tents, Nags Head has decided to tag tents that are left on the beach overnight and those tents will be subject to removal. Removal of unattended beach equipment will take place between 5 a.m. through 7 a.m., Monday through Saturday from May 23 to September 7.

“If the collection crews are stopped by an owner prior to the removal of a tent, staff would leave the equipment, provide the owner with the pamphlet and answer any questions they may have. Large umbrellas are included in the monitoring and removal process. After collection, all items are treated as trash and disposed of. No retrieval is possible.”

The last large order of business dealt with the ongoing discussion about the flood damage prevention ordinance, which must be adopted by June 19.

After hearing from members of the Outer Banks Home Builders Association (OBHBA), the commissioners agreed to discuss two items in particular more before making a final decision.

These items of interest pertain to lateral additions of nonconforming structures in X and shaded X zones as well as the chosen 10-ft. regulatory flood protection elevation.

As it stands, the ordinance would require such structures in X and shaded X zones to be elevated to the 10-ft. RFPE, which would increase the square footage of the adjacent floor by 25% or more.

Porter Graham with OBHBA noted in his letter to the board that this would “present a problem for homeowners interested both in usably enlarging a floor that falls below the proposed RFPE and in maintaining a level floor.”

He asked, on behalf of OBHBA, that the arbitrary 25% threshold be removed. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Siers agreed the 25% was “too regulative.” “A lot of character of the Outer Banks . . . is a single family, about 1200 sq. ft. house. You start putting stairs and adding on living space . . . it changes whole architecture of the beach,” Siers added.

As for the 10-ft. RFPE, Fuller wasn’t convinced that an 8-ft. RFPE wouldn’t work. In an effort to receive more information before making a final decision, commissioner Cahoon motioned to table the item to the board’s June 3 meeting. All were in favor.

For more information or to view the commissioners meeting online, visit the town website at



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