Dare State of County sets out new motto

Published 8:59 am Sunday, February 5, 2023

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Dare County’s State of the County gathering was different this year.

Instead of presenting a statistical slide show, Robert L. Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, talked about five issues and presented five people from the Dare County community to explain what those issues are.

At the beginning, Woodard put forward a new motto: “Caring for our Community: A Nurturing Place Where We All Can Live and Grow.”

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The message was carried through the presentations about essential and workforce housing; beach nourishment; waterway accessibility; commitment to education; and combating the opioid crisis.

About housing, Woodard said “it’s been difficult.” Dare’s commissioners have been working for two and a half years. “Don’t let the nay-sayers shout us down. We’ve missed opportunities.”

Two firms are working to build housing. Woda Cooper Companies has pledged 100 units with about half on the county-owned Bowsertown Road site. Woda Cooper withdrew an application to build on a site in Nags Head.

The second builder, Coastal Affordable Housing, will convert $35 million into $100 million in new housing.

Trassa Rossi is a special education teacher at First Flight Middle School. She has been living in teacher housing and her three years in that housing is up in August. She’s looking for housing. The mortgage payments are more than she makes. She’ll leave the Dare County Schools if she can’t find housing.

“I would love to stay here.” She was received a standing ovation.

Beach nourishment. The beaches are “our economic engine,” said Woodard. 2022 was the Year of Nourishment on Dare’s beaches. Sand was pumped on beaches in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores. The contractor will come back in the spring for Duck.

A new 2.5-mile project was completed in Avon and a maintenance project was finished along 2.9 beach miles in Buxton.

Over the last 10 years, Dare County and its partners have pumped sand worth $225 million on Outer Banks beaches.

Woodard tapped Bill Laricos, an advanced EMT with Dare County and captain of the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, to underscore the need for beach nourishment. Laricos has a home right on NC 12 in Avon. Every storm brought two feet of water, causing staff to be shuttled around or take a $330,000 ambulance through salt water.

Beach access is a problem. The rescue squad responds to emergencies on 27 miles of ocean front beaches. If no beach exists, the squad can’t drive to deliver medical care. Instead, the ambulance goes to an access from what appears to be closest to the person in need. Some 100 pounds of equipment is hustled on foot over whatever dune is there. “It eats up a lot of valuable time.”

For the county’s Emergency Medical Services staff, beach nourishment is a “matter of life and death.”

Maintaining Waterways. In 2022, the many years of work by the Oregon Inlet Task Force produced the first $15 million shallow-draft dredge, the Miss Katie. EJE Dredging Services owns and operates the dredge, but the Oregon Inlet Task Force tells it where to go. “We get to make that decision,” said Woodard.

Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet “are highways,” said Woodard. The Miss Katie is due in Hatteras Inlet to maintain the channel in February. Last year, the Hatteras Village Off-Shore Open let boats fish out of Morehead due to Hatteras Inlet channel conditions. This year is different. Tournament boats are required to fish out of Hatteras village. Why? Because the channel has held since the last dredging and the Miss Katie will spend seven to 10 days maintaining that channel before the season starts and before the open happens, May 9 through May 13.

Speaking for commercial watermen was Kait Daniels, who is 10 years married to Captain Boo Daniels. They have two children. Why is Kait thankful for the Miss Katie? Before the dredge arrived, her husband had to wait for high tide to transit Oregon Inlet, making for dangerous traveling. “Now he doesn’t have to wait for high tide,” said Kait. “It’s really, really vitally important to families like ours.”

Commitment to Education. “We’re fortunate,” said Woodard. On Tuesday morning, the committee called 5-on-5 met for the first time this school term. The committee has three commissioners, three board of education members, the Dare County manager, Dare County Schools superintendent, Dare’s finance director, and this time the substitute school finance officer the assistant superintendent. Woodard said the meeting was “fantastic.”

In fiscal year 2023, Dare County has budgeted $22.8 million for schools or about 38% of the Dare County Schools budget. The county adds another $1.3 million to fund school resource officers and place a nurse in every school. Dare County and the county’s Board of Education do not fight at budget time because the two government entities decided on a formula for annual budgets.

The county’s commitment doesn’t stop at 12th grade.

This past fall, the brand-new College of The Albemarle campus on Roanoke Island opened for student classes. The new $18 million academic building brought with it face-to-face course delivery. And, Dare County’s commissioners have authorized a recurring $250,000 for the Dare Guarantee Scholarship, which pays what scholarships do not pay, making two years at College of The Albemarle free.

Zoe Heath Morris is a Dare Guarantee Scholarship recipient. She first heard about the scholarship in her senior year.

Combatting substance use and opioid crisis. In 2014, commissioner and voard Vice Chairman Wally Overman and Health Department’s Roxana Ballinger got together and started the Saving Lives Task Force. That task force tackles increasing access to treatment in Dare County. One of the programs pushed to fruition is Dare County Recovery Court, an 18-month program. In December 2022, the program graduated 21 people. The program currently has 40 people in the program.

Autumn Price is a Recovery Court graduate. She moved to the Outer Banks to live at the Oxford House for women. She had $36 in her pocket. Some 100 hays later she crashed, quite publicly. Her kids were in foster homes. She wanted to get sober and stay sober. She was offered Recovery Court, which offered her responsibility and taught her to be a person, mother, friend, advocate.

Woodard finished.

“We’re blessed!!! … Let’s make things happen. I need your help.”

The State of Dare County presentation was held at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills. Breakfast was served. Some 210 people attended. Tickets sold out in 36 hours.