Monday, October 17, 2011

County to finally get started on maintaining Carova Roads

After a longer than anticipated permit process, the county is finally getting approvals to improve the Ocean Pearl Road. It's a start. Below is an article from the Virginia Pilot's Jeff Hampton.

N.C. county to spend $300K to tame massive potholes

Ocean Pearl Road, the unpaved artery of the four-wheel-drive area in the northern Outer Banks, was built in the 1960s. One three-mile section has about 75 potholes. After years of wrangling, Currituck County plans to spend $300,000 on repairs, with the blessing of the Army Corps of Engineers. Related
•On N.C. road, potholes are so big, they're wetlands - Jan. 9

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© October 15, 2011

Talk about tough road work.

Currituck County has the job of filling 75 potholes - but not your typical dips in the road that do little more than throw off the alignment on your front end. Some of these are big enough to swallow a truck and vintage enough to be classified as landmarks.

After at least 20 years of trying, the county finally plans to spend about $300,000 to fill and grade a three-mile section of Ocean Pearl Road, an unpaved primary route within the four-wheel-drive area of the Currituck Outer Banks.

"I can sum it up in one word," said Currituck Commissioner Vance Aydlett: "Hallelujah."

The Army Corps of Engineers anticipates issuing a permit for the work soon, corps spokesman Hank Heusinkveld said.

Built in the 1960s, Ocean Pearl runs parallel to the dunes past the community's only cluster of mailboxes and the only fire station.

One after another, potholes developed and then grew - some 50 feet wide, 50 feet long and up to 4 feet deep - making the road impassable after a hard rainstorm. Even large four-wheel-drive trucks stalled out and became partially submerged.

One pothole recognized as the granddaddy of them all is at the intersection of Ocean Pearl and Bluefish Lane. It measures nearly a tenth of an acre. Four-wheeling enthusiasts test their trucks against the depth and breadth of this chasm.

Over the years, full-time residents have resisted supporting road projects. Instead, they put up with pond-size potholes specifically so the area would remain difficult to traverse and, thus, less accessible to outsiders. More recently, federal wetlands regulations have hampered upgrades.

But after Tropical Storm Ernesto in 2006, dozens of renters were stranded and emergency vehicles could not get through. Afterward, underground phone lines surfaced and were crushed beneath the big tires of vehicles, knocking out service to several homes.

Carova residents, many of them retired and with health concerns, have come around and now are willing to see part of Ocean Pearl repaired.

"You just can't get anyplace fast," said Sonia Mays, an emergency medical employee and volunteer firefighter. "We need Ocean Pearl fixed for rescues and evacuation."

Other parallel roads, such as Sandfiddler and Sandpiper, are more narrow than Ocean Pearl and flood just as badly. Short roads running east and west are no more than single-lane dirt paths often blocked by limbs of wild live-oak trees.

Locals have used heavy equipment to scrape the road themselves several times over the years, but without a better base the holes return quickly, Mays said.

The county broke the stalemate with the corps by limiting wetlands disturbance and doing away with designs to drain the road to nearby creeks, Aydlett said.

Even so, a 150-foot section marked as wetlands within the three-mile project will be left unimproved. On top of that, Ocean Pearl south of where the project ends at Wild Horse Lane may never get upgraded. The corps has declared that section - where there are more potholes than high ground - almost entirely wetlands, vexing locals and the county.

"Heaven forbid if a cattail grows in the middle of the road; it becomes a wetland," Mays said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

County trying to identify best direction for growing number of visitors on off-road Carova beaches

Still tackling a growing safety concern and multiple agendas, the County is seeking input from all over on how best to protect-enjoy-promote-restrict-capitalize-develop-preserve-drive-sit on the Northern Beaches. Below is an article from the Daily Advance on this issue. Despite the inconvenience and extra wear and tear on the vehicles, I am with Sheriff Johnson as a start to this effort...which will not be solved by any one measure but a series of adjustments and efforts requiring a sacrifice and an acknowledgement of all people (local and visiting alike) who enjoy, live, and work on those beaches.

Poll: Beach permits a concern

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Monday, October 10, 2011

CURRITUCK — A recent poll of Currituck businesses reportedly reflects “a lot of concerns and questions” about any future permit system for the county’s off-road beaches.

Currituck Chamber of Commerce president Josh Bass asked for members’ input after a Beach Driving Committee last month recommended studying the possibility of a permit system for off-road beaches. About 70 businesses from both the mainland and the Outer Banks responded.

Some business owners were strongly against the idea, but most had questions about a proposed permit system for the off-road beaches, Bass said. Some wanted to know how permits might be issued and who would get them.

Commissioner Butch Petrey, who said a permit system would negatively affect tourism, asked a similar question.

“Who is going to stand at the gate and have people turn around?” Petrey asked.

The Beach Driving Committee advised commissioners to study the possibility of issuing permits during peak weekends to alleviate traffic problems. The committee suggested limiting the number of day-trippers who do not live, work or rent vacation homes on Currituck’s northern beaches.

The committee reported that about 2,000 day-trippers drive the 11-mile beach road each summer weekend. The added vehicles contribute to a dangerous mix of pedestrians and heavy traffic during vacation season, committee members said.

Bass said one of his chief concerns is making sure the community does not view “day-trippers” negatively. Visitors who spend the day on the county’s northern beaches without lodging there contribute to the local economy each time they stop to shop, eat out and buy gas, he said.

Short visits are also good for advertising the resort, he said. Day-long visitors may like what they see and decide to stay longer the next time — or may even consider investing in a second home, he said. Events at the Whalehead Club that draw vacationers and Currituck residents alike bring business to nearby shops and restaurants in Corolla, he said.

“My question is how do we promote day-trippers in one area of the county and not another?” Bass said.

The Beach Driving Committee also suggested other ways to relieve traffic problems on the beach road. Better directions for on-road parking and stepped-up efforts to educate drivers about airing-down tires and driving on the beach would help, committee members said.

Those options were the focus of a recent county staff meeting, two participants said. During that discussion, permits were “off the table,” but other ways to solve traffic issues on the beach were considered. Commissioners are expected to hear the staff recommendations on Nov. 7.

Tourism director Diane Nordstrom said educating vacationers about driving rules and where to park will probably be the biggest help.

Nordstrom, like Bass, was concerned about how day-trippers may be perceived.

“I think day-trippers may be getting a bad rap,” she said.

She said a majority of those day-trippers appear to be Currituck vacationers staying in rental homes south of the off-road area. A poll of vacationers at the Corolla Visitors Centers revealed that only 10 out of 150 each day will not spend the night in Currituck, she said.

Some day-trippers come from Dare County to see the wild horses or visit the lighthouse — which may whet their desire to come back, said Nordstrom.

“Once they find out how nice it is, they may decide to spend their next vacation in Corolla or Carova,” she said.

Sheriff Susan Johnson said changing the traffic pattern on the beach road can solve a lot of safety issues. She said a permit system would be difficult to enforce with the department’s current work force.

“I have been saying for years we have a public safety issue at the beach,” said Johnson.

She said beach-goers have to weave through vehicles driving on the foreshore to reach the water. She’s recommending traffic be moved behind the beach-goers and their parked cars to eliminate that hazard.

Johnson said she knows the change may result in more cars getting stuck in the powdery sand near the dune line, but that’s already a problem for motorists not used to beach driving.

Once the traffic pattern is changed, it will be easier to assess if too many vehicles are driving the beach road, she said.

Bass said he understands traffic may get congested on the beach, but the rest of Currituck is dealing with the same issue.

“That’s part of being a tourist destination. We all deal with traffic on Saturday,” he said.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Currituck Horse in Carova a Mystery

At last Aerial count of the herd, the herd numbers jumped up to a level even the Corolla Wild Horse Fund cannot explain. See the detailed article below.

Corolla's wild herd surge baffles advocates

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Thursday, October 6, 2011

COROLLA — Too many wild horses on the Currituck Outer Banks has the non-profit that protects them baffled.

An aerial count of the herd a few weeks ago revealed 23 more horses in the Carova area 
than last year.

That’s not natural, says Karen McCalpin, executive director for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Births cannot account for the rapid rise in horse numbers in one location. In fact, the Wild Horse Fund has been giving the mares contraceptives to keep the herd’s number down. So that many births in one year would be “physically impossible,” McCalpin said.

The sudden population change in the northern section of beaches has McCalpin perplexed.

Every year, for the past five years, the aerial count has matched numbers kept by herd manager Wesley Stallings. The herd count on average has numbered 103.

This year was different. By helicopter, 144 horses were spotted. Stallings, who spends 30 hours a week tracking the herd and documenting their behavior, counted 115 last year.

The number is not consistent

with previous years, Stallings said. Either all the previous counts were wrong or something has happened. Stallings said his job is to keep objective data and he didn’t want to speculate about the sudden anomaly.

“These horses came from somewhere but we’re not sure where,” McCalpin said.

One possibility may be the horses migrated from up north. The horses may have been living in the 21,000-acre False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va., and crossed over into new territory, she said.

Besides that theory, the extra horses remain a mystery.

The big jump “doesn’t make any sense” after five years of consistent data, McCalpin said.

Since the aerial count, Stallings has noticed a few of the “strangers” in Carova. The horses have some of the same features as the Spanish mustangs he’s been following for years, he said.

Their colors — chestnut, brown, black — match the existing herd, but from a distance they appear to look different, McCalpin said.

In the next couple weeks, Stallings will be taking photographs and getting close enough to examine the newcomers. Without genetics testing it may be impossible to know for sure if they are the same breed, he said.

Ironically, the extra horses may require the Wild Horse Fund to thin out the herd it has been fighting to enlarge.

This week, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act won approval of the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill next goes to the floor of Congress for further consideration.

McCalpin said committee approval of HR-306 is a big victory for supporters of Corolla Wild Horses.

“There’s still a long road to go (before the bill is approved by the full Congress) but that was a huge hurdle,” she said.

The legislation would allow the herd size previously limited to 60 horses to slightly more than double. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., provides for a new management plan for expanding the gene pool of the herd. The horses are too closely related would be destined for genetic collapse without the plan, said McCalpin.

She said the Wild Horse Fund will comply with the new legislation and trim back the herd to the 120-130 as required.

A dozen or more of the most human-friendly horses may be selected over time for saddle-training and become part of an adoption program that stretches from Texas to Maine, McCalpin said. Saddle-training for the naturally intelligent, mild-mannered breed should not be difficult, she said.