Will judge's order close Hatteras beaches to driving?
By CATHERINE KOZAK, The Virginian-Pilot
© July 18, 2007
Last updated: 3:33 PM
As drivers of off-road vehicles continue to enjoy riding on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the National Park Service is consulting with lawyers on the implications of a judge's order condemning the practice.
Mike Murray, the superintendent of the seashore, said in a statement today that the park service was conferring with Department of the Interior and Department of Justice lawyers to "determine how to respond" to the judge's order.
But Jason Rylander of Defenders of Wildlife said his group believes the park service has no choice but to close the beach to drivers until an off-road vehicle management plan is in place.
Beach driving has been permitted on parts of the seashore for years, despite an executive order in 1972 requiring a management plan. The park service has never developed one but is now in the process of doing so.
Driving on the beach has become increasingly popular on Hatteras Island with more people owning sport utility vehicles that provide easier access.
But the practice has been a heated point of contention between environmental groups and beach driving advocates who say the island's economy depends on it. Driving on the beach provides access to some of the top fishing spots on the East Coast.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said the seashore "does not have regulations in place to govern ORV traffic." He said that it was a violation to operate off-road vehicles there without the authority of the Department of the Interior or "its designee."
The order grew out of a case involving a reckless driving summons issued May 27 near Oregon Inlet.
In his order, Boyle described flyovers by park service and department of interior pilots documenting 1,200 vehicles at Oregon Inlet in an "overwash" area frequented by endangered shorebirds and turtles.
He said it was reasonable to estimate that 2,500 to 5,000 people "crowded onto this narrow, fragile, environmentally sensitive area on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend."