Two committee meetings are planned this week by the Down East Rural Planning Organization on the subject of ongoing transportation projects in Craven, Pamlico, Jones, Onslow and Carteret counties.
The matter of proposed ferry tolls by the state Department of Transportation is not listed, but may come up for discussion during 10 a.m. meetings Thursday in Jacksonville and Friday in New Bern.
The Technical Coordinating Committee meets Thursday in Jacksonville and the Transportation Advisory Committee convenes at 10 a.m. Friday at the O. Marks Building in New Bern.
The General Assembly in 2013 funded operations for the coastal ferry system but put the matter of paying for replacement vessels in the hands of local RPOs — via a request to DOT. The requesting local board would be the Transportation Advisory Committee.
Public sentiment has run strongly against increased or new tolls — such as for the Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach route — in the past three years. It was evident again earlier this month with more than 200 people at one of a series of seven coastal public hearings at Pamlico Community College.
A key provision in the 2013 legislation is that the local planning groups are not required to make a decision or a request on tolling.
Pamlico County’s TAC representatives, County Commissioner Chris Mele and Minnesott Beach Mayor Josh Potter, have said they do not intend to bring the matter up during the Friday meeting.
“This thing can die. We are not required to do anything but hear this,” Potter said of the public hearing presentation by DOT. “We (TAC) don’t have to take any action.”
Potter said he would not initiate any ferry toll talk.
“To do nothing is enough,” he said. “That is my stand on it, unless the Department of Transportation and the General Assembly force the issue.”
Meanwhile, the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners is actively trying to get the attention of Gov. Pat McCrory on the issue.
On Monday, Commissioners Kenny Heath and Paul Delamar III, County Manager Tim Buck, along with ferry toll opponent Greg Piner, met with Ed Goodwin, the Eastern Region’s director to the governor.
Heath said it was to relay the county’s stand against ferry tolls to the Republican governor.
Heath, also a Republican, said he earlier contacted the governor’s office seeking a “face-to-face” meeting with McCrory and the Pamlico contingent.
“That is pretty impossible,” he said. “But, I tried. I will continue to call the governor’s office to make sure that the governor is getting the actual facts. I don’t believe it making it.”
Heath said that the talks with Goodwin were productive and he expressed optimism that it would help in attempts to talk with the governor.
Charlie Hall is a reporter for the Sun Journal.