Monday, February 18, 2008

A Move to Restrict Beach Access in Carova

Published in the Daily Advance, below is an interesting article about limiting traffic on the Northern Beaches of the Outer Banks as well as discussion about a possible rebirth of the "service district".

Staff Writer

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Residents of Currituck's northern beaches believe one way to reduce vehicular traffic on the beaches would be to limit the number of out-of-county visitors during the summer months.

That's why a group of North Swan Beach property owners are proposing the county begin issuing passes to motorists seeking access to Swan Beach, North Swan Beach and Carova.

Under the proposal, Currituck residents and out-of-county visitors renting beach property would receive passes giving them open access to beach areas. However, only a limited number of out-of-county visitors would be issued beach passes each day.

Lynne Wilson, one of the North Swan Beach property owners proposing the idea, says access to the beaches could be controlled through a "guard gate." The gate could be placed on property between the end of the paved road on N.C. Highway 12 and the ramp that allows vehicles access to the beaches, she said.

Wilson said her group has already researched the idea, discovering not only that it's legal but that other beach communities around the country are using it.

"There would be a limited number of cars (from outside the county) allowed each day," she said. "It would be very well publicized."

The result of a controlled-access system, Wilson said, would be less traffic on the beaches and better safety.

Wilson and other North Swan Beach homeowners are floating their proposal at the same time that a controversial idea regarding northern beach access is resurfacing.

At a commission retreat on Jan. 28, Fruitville Township Commissioner Ernie Bowden, who represents the north beaches, again urged his fellow commissioners to consider the formation of a service district in the Carova area. The service district would allow the county to spend funds improving and maintaining interior roads behind the beach dunes.

Some residents oppose the district, fearing it would bring additional development to the northern beaches. Others have voiced concerns that the improved roads might negatively affect wetland areas, the beaches' fragile wildlife, and hinder the freedom of the Corolla wild horses.

But Currituck Emergency Management Director Stanley Griggs, who recently filed to run for a new at-large seat on the Board of Commissioners, said it's an issue he would like discussed again. In a Sept. 17, 2007 letter to Board of Commissioners Chairman Barry Nelms, Griggs outlines his safety concerns.

"Mixed uses on the beachfront, such as recreational activities and traffic, are incompatible, and in my view, a disaster waiting to happen," he writes. "Children in particular do not pay attention to, or are unaware of, the danger posed by passing vehicles. Improvement in infrastructure such as interior roads would go a long way in starting the process to change this very dangerous situation."

Griggs said Friday that he would like all of the stake-holders to discuss the service district issue with "everyone's interest at heart."

"It is a complex issue," he said.

Wilson, however, believes creation of a service district for roads would not improve safety on the beach.

"First of all, it would bring more traffic, and one of the major concerns now is the escalation of traffic on the beach, especially during the (summer) season," Wilson said.

Wilson said beach residents support the county filling in potholes along the existing interior roads. But they are opposed to the formation of a service district to upgrade the roads.

"A service district is kind of opening door to the possibility of not only more traffic, but also could lead down the road to more development because of easier access, and greater density development, which we definitely don't want to see,"

she said.

County Commissioner Owen Etheridge, who represents Crawford Township, said the road controversy on the northern beaches has been hanging over the commission board since last fall.

"Ultimately, we've got to do something to address this issue," he said.

County Manager Dan Scanlon said if a service district were created, the county would not be creating new paved roads in the northern beach area. He said the county would only spend money on projects like the grading of Sandfiddler Road, an existing interior road.

"We would not be creating a new road, not paving a road, not putting rock on a road, not shell," Scanlon said. "We're talking about going up there and pretty much putting a grade on it, widening it back out so two cars could pass each other, and addressing the blind intersections so that it is safe to travel the road."

Scanlon said there is a general public safety concern about the condition of the interior roads.

"A couple years ago, we had a lot of rains, and some of the roads flooded," Scanlon said. "It was hard to get up in there. All the public safety agencies expressed a concern (about it), as well as the post office."