Hatteras residents criticize timing of visitor re-entry

By on September 17, 2019

Dare Board defends work of Dorian Control Group

Flooded roads were one of the conditions on Hatteras. (CURRENTtv)

Speaking during public comment at the Dare County Commissioners meeting on Sept. 16, a number of Hatteras Island residents expressed their displeasure — sometimes in emotional terms — with the county’s decisions on when to allow visitors to re-enter the hard-hit island in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

Unrestricted access to Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo began at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 10, followed by unrestricted access to Avon and northern areas of Buxton the next day and then full access to Frisco and Hatteras Village on Sept. 12. The return of the visitors, the Hatteras residents told the commissioners, came before some businesses were ready to handle them and forced residents back to their tourism-related jobs while they were still tending to their own flooded homes and grounds.

In the early days after Dorian, some Hatteras residents were “standing there in sewage for three days when your boss called and said ‘hey, you gotta get back to work,’” declared Rich Donner. “I don’t know anyone who thought it was a popular decision to start opening the island on Tuesday” Sept. 10.

Tina Gartelman declared that, “I had three feet of water in my house,” when the tourists were allowed back in. “After a major event, we need time to repair our own housing sites.”

Buxton resident Brett Barley told board members that, “there needs to be more time between letting residents back and letting visitors back…These are people that being forced back to work for people’s vacations. Money is being place above people’s safety and well-being.”

Elaine Hooper criticized what she saw as the premature re-entry of tourists, stating that “by the time the island had opened, restaurants still hadn’t gotten their food shipments.”

At the outset of the meeting, Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard, delivered lengthy remarks reviewing the timetable of events and the work of the Dare Control Group  — consisting of Woodard, the mayors or representatives of the county’s six municipalities, the Superintendent of the National Park Service and the Dare County Sheriff — which convened regularly to make decisions about evacuations and re-entry.

He asserted that a number of businesses and workers on Hatteras “wanted to open [the island] as soon as possible,” for their economic well-being, adding that some are “living paycheck to paycheck.”

“We just didn’t willy-nilly make these decisions,” Woodard said. “We talked to the folks on Hatteras Island…This is a delicate balancing act that is done in a careful and meaningful way by the Control Group…It’s a complicated issue folks. There’s no way the Control Group can make everyone happy.”

Several of the speakers attended the commissioners meeting in Manteo, but a number of them spoke remotely from Buxton. One key point of contention was whether the Control Group had solicited enough input about conditions on Hatteras from residents there before making re-entry decisions.

One of the speakers, Linda Browning, contended that key players, such as fire departments, rescue squad members and amateur radio operations, were not sufficiently consulted by the county.

“There are people who can tell you what is going on [everywhere] on Hatteras Island,” she said. That brought a rebuttal of sorts from Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson who said the county Fire Marshal had been in touch with counterparts on Hatteras.

But some of the critics pressed the idea that the island needs more formal and direct representation in the decision-making process — noting that the Control Group is largely comprised of people north of the Oregon Inlet.

“The group down here needs to feel they’ve got a seat on the committee that’s making the decision,” said Jason Collier of Frisco. “It feels the decision is being made way up on the beach.”

Responding to an earlier statement from County Manager Bobby Outten that the Control Group’s obligation is “to look at the county from thirty-five thousand feet,” Frisco resident Lou Browning said, “As far as a thirty-five thousand foot view, I don’t think that’s quite high enough for your Control Group…At some point, north of the bridge is going to get hit by a storm also.”

“We need our own Control Group,” Barley stated. “We need our own representatives at the very least.”

One other issue that emerged was what the critics saw as a too-short interval between county re-entry announcements and the return of visitors. They noted, for example, that the bulletin announcing unrestricted access to all of Hatteras starting on Sept. 12 at noon was released at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11.

“At five thirty or six p.m., [residents] are finding out people are coming back tomorrow,” said Barley. That’s “not enough time. Give them a day.”

As the debate simmered, Woodard reiterated the point that Commissioner Danny Couch, who represents Hatteras, was at every Control Group meeting and played a key role as a liaison between residents and the decision makers.

And at the end of the board meeting, Couch made impassioned remarks about complaints that residents there hadn’t had enough voice in the matter.

“Regarding the re-entry process down on Hatteras…I talked to a ton of people, probably one hundred and twenty people over a three-day period and probably an additional eighty to ninety phone calls,” he said. “The Control Group, in my mind, was properly advised…These are emotional issues, I understand that. It’s a tough, tough call, but the greater good has to be served.”

Addressing the idea that tourism is vital to the area, Couch added that, “The surest way to get your life back is to get your life back. And that’s what we are. We are a hospitality” venue.

Putting a cap on a discussion that verged from respectful to bristling, Woodard concluded that: What I’ll say to the folks on Hatteras — all the comments I received, I take them very seriously…I will share that with the Control Group. We learn from every situation.”


Several other Dorian-related matters were addressed at the Sept. 16 commissioners meeting. The board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding and a Capital Project Ordinance to finance the repair costs needed for Cape Hatteras Secondary School, which was badly damaged in the flood, but managed to re-open its doors on Sept. 16.

The total damage estimate for the school presented to the board was $3.2 million. Under the agreement, the county will pay for the repair of the schools and be paid back when the schools receive insurance, FEMA and other reimbursements for that work. The costliest repair work involves the media center roof and front wall ($450,000), the gym roof ($407,000) and the roof adjacent to the gym roof ($400,000).

At the meeting, the commissioners also passed a resolution asking Dominion Power to replace the wooden utility poles with underground, steel or concrete power poles along the Manteo-Nags Head Causeway.

Noting that the wooden utility poles had been “damaged or broken” during a number of big storms, including Dorian, the resolution states their replacement with stronger poles would “provide Dare County citizens with a lower risk of interrupted service…have significant positive  impacts on response and recovery and reduce the manpower and repeated extensive infrastructure repair to North Carolina Dominion Power.”




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  • surf123

    Two things:

    1. Note that Dominion Power was the only power company listed. CHEC takes care of its customers on Hatteras Island with proactive maintenance. The work of Dominion Power in this county is consistent with their performance in other parts of the region.

    2. Reentry was again way too early. The fire department volunteers and employees were busy helping those is Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras get their homes into some type of livable condition. In many cases that condition is something that most would never consider entering much less living in. The control group is only concerned about the money and always will be. It is time for Hatteras to divorce itself from the rest of the county as we are the only ones who know and care about proper reentry times and procedures.

    Tuesday, Sep 17 @ 11:35 am
  • Runnerguy45

    The Control Group is made up of people who protect the interest of business owners not homeowners.
    There is a simmering tension that is getting worse between year round residents who want a quality of life versus business owners who want to make as much money as possible.
    The business owners cries that they are doing this for workers who live paycheck to paycheck fall on deaf ears as they lay off employees yearly and rarely provide decent insurance for employees.

    Tuesday, Sep 17 @ 12:14 pm
  • Sean

    INSTEAD OF THE OUT OF STATE HOMEOWNERS[ To the commissioners in your fancy suits and nice houses Greed it’s what drives yall cause I don’t give a nats butt over money anymore. You as a group made a bad decision. You should have physically spoke to the people of those towns and asked when they were ready instead of feeding them to the wolves. You’ve done this after irean, remember? We wernt ready then and they were now. Get a clue

    Tuesday, Sep 17 @ 9:14 pm
  • Michael

    I’m on northern dare but I agree. It was to early for reentry down there. We know about the greed that most people have around here when it comes to the tourist dollar, but I find myself asking this question. What goes through these tourists minds ? I went to gatlinburg tn 5 months after the fire a few years ago and I felt weird and uncomfortable. Seeing the locals still suffering. Some will say” well they need our money to recover. That may be true, but not a few days after a disaster. This is just my opinion but it shows a lot of selfishness. That’s what gets me. To actually come to a place that just got hit hard by a storm and demand you get in and have your way. It’s uncalled for. It’s uncalled for by the control groups and it’s uncalled for by the visitors. The obx isn’t going anywhere. There’s always another day. Just not the day after a life changing event for some .

    Tuesday, Sep 17 @ 10:21 pm
  • John Wadsworth

    The driving issue is money the golden god. They put residents at risk now we have a board making decision without assessment of the township involved chasing the almighty dollar. Guess what the resident can do without u dare Co board go get a real job

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 12:03 am
  • John Wadsworth

    By the way why has my electric bill gone out the roof. $1,500 a month is too damn much who approved the rate hike last year the DARE CO BOARD THANKS FOR DIGGING IN MY WALLET

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 12:07 am
  • surf123

    I should not even respond to this since it is off topic, but Dare County BOC has nothing to do with electric rates. I believe the state of NC regulates increases and adjustments that are submitted by CHEC ( the electric company on HI). If you are not on HI then your beef is with Dominion Power. For those of us on HI the rate increase was not done without thought and a good portion of it is based on the costs to remove the transmission line from the old bridge and install a new one on the new bridge.

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 10:47 am
  • Travis

    One, if your electric bill is 1500 a month for a residence you need to close the windows when your AC is running.
    Two, after seeing the quick response and number of trucks and linemen out there working right after the storm, I frankly don’t feel so bad about what I’m paying.
    Three, the Dare Board has about as much say in your electric bill as you do in the phases of the moon. I’ve no love for them in general, but you can’t blame them for something they didn’t do.

    Thursday, Sep 19 @ 1:31 pm
  • Czarina

    Time and again, the County lets visitors in before they should. No compassion for the victims who live here. The Almighty Dollar rules.

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 7:21 am
  • Michael Porter

    As a non-resident but member of a local non-profit that meets on Hatteras Island, I have to say I was surprised at how quickly Dare County allow tourists back for the whole county, not just Hatteras Island. I was expecting at least two weeks of only residents, non-resident property owners, and employees. If a business was properly insured, their employees wages are covered by insurance.

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 7:25 am
  • Travis

    Every Commissioner has a vested business interest in opening things back up as soon as possible. They might want to include a few waitresses, teachers, firefighters and carpenters in their next discussion for a bit of balance.

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 9:59 am
  • Pamela Gill

    At least now I know Holden Beach in Brunswick Co was not the only island that ignored residents/owners rights over the interest of the public. We were only given 30 minutes lead time before the island was opened to the general public. Most owners had not returned to the island to check on damage an secure their properties.

    Wednesday, Sep 18 @ 7:48 pm
  • James

    My wife and I live in Raleigh wanting to see how all was to the outer banks after the hurricane as we did in Wilmington last year. We do travel east several times a year camping and some just weekends getaways down there. I’m posting because I was at the Hatteras Inn for Sept 13-14 to find shells and things on the beach after the storm. Not much was open after 3 pm and it rained all weekend. However we did check out the thrift store just down from our hotel on Saturday and during checkout the woman at the register told us to stay out of Hatteras as to the effort to rebuild was in affect. I was shocked by her ownership of the beach she was claiming. Now I read this today and I see locals did not want us here! Fine I will never spend a dime in your piss ass community again. One less visitor forever.

    Thursday, Sep 19 @ 7:35 pm
  • Island guy

    Yes people did not want you here as early as you were let in. There is nothing like having your whole life in a pile out on the road with strangers riding by gawking and even going through your stuff. The big problem is that people had to stop trying to get their houses in order to go back to their jobs with a lot of work left to do at home

    Monday, Sep 23 @ 9:36 am
  • ConservativeBeachBum

    “Control Group”, what a perfectly Orwellian title for a group of nanny-state bureaucrats. The biggest problem with their handling of Dorian was not the re-entry methodology. Rather it was the overly dramatic communications and directives issued to the populace, premature evacuation of visitors, and posting of red flags in what was perfectly normal beach/rip conditions, at least a full day too early. Visitors who support much of the OBX community were kicked off the island far too early. More of this overly dramatic “precaution”, and “yankees” will be looking elsewhere to plan a vacation. Then the curfews imposed were over the top… what are we a banana republic? Did I miss the mass hordes of looters ransacking the village of Duck? Spare me the it’s for the safety of all crap… what has happened to our founding ideals of rugged individualism ? I don’t need a bureaucrat telling me when I can and can’t leave my house, nor will I call on first responders if my decision to stay turns dicey. How about we live our lives as grown adults and stop looking to a typically inept government to tell is what to do.

    Friday, Sep 20 @ 12:19 am