What has been called a sizable contingent of residents plans to be in Raleigh Monday in the ongoing protest against new and increased tolls for the state’s coastal ferries.
The toll changes will go into effect in July unless there is legislative intervention. State lawmakers ordered the toll changes in 2011 as part of a mandate to the N.C. Department of Transportation to increase annual revenues to $5 million.
An executive order moratorium delaying the tolls for a year was issued in February 2012 by former Gov. Bev Perdue.
The changes include new tolls on previously free ferries at Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch on the Neuse River and Aurora-Bayview on the Pamlico River.
The state holds the first of three public hearings on the tolls Monday night in Raleigh.
Local protestors plan to be in the state capital by noon, hold a sign rally at the General Assembly and then meet with some lawmakers later in the afternoon before the 7 p.m. hearing.
Larry Summers, an Oriental town commissioner and a leader of the Pamlico toll protesters said he planned to get to Raleigh around 1 p.m.
“I hope people will join us,” he said. “We are going to hold some signs up and try and get some attention.”
Summers said a meeting is planned at 4 p.m. with at least four lawmakers, including Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.
“I would say there are about 30, probably 40 people from the county (Pamlico) who plan to come,” Summers said. “And it sounds like Beaufort and Wayne counties are also sending people, so we could have about 100.”
Sanderson said the gathering lawmakers had hoped to have the Secretary of Transportation at the 4 p.m. meeting, but he had another commitment. Sanderson said attempts were still being made to get a high-ranking DOT official to attend and hear the public comments and questions.
Sanderson said he is continuing to gather specific information from the ferry division for a bill he plans to introduce that would target efficiency problems in the division.
Speciale earlier introduced a bill seeking the exemption of the Minnesott and Aurora ferries from the new tolls.
Sanderson added that there had been talk in the House of a bill coming as early as next week to eliminate the toll changes.
“That would be a lot better bill,” he said. “That is a possibility, but if that doesn’t materialize, then we will write our bill and introduce it to eliminate the ones (tolls) on our two ferries.”
Sanderson said any public showing for the Monday hearing is worthwhile.
“Absolutely, it always makes a difference to these people up here when a group comes,” he said. “They have a legitimate purpose. It makes a huge difference when it is done the right way.”
Beaufort County is offering free bus transportation to the Monday hearing for the first 50 people who show up for a 1:30 p.m. Monday departure from Beaufort County Community College on U.S. 264 in Washington, N.C. The bus will return to Beaufort County that night.
The public hearing is at Wake Commons, 4011 Carya Drive, Room 100B, in Raleigh.
Following a DOT presentation, the hearing will be open for statements, questions and comments. Anyone wishing to speak should register at the sign-in table prior to the 7 p.m. start.
A second public hearing is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Ocracoke School Gymnasium on Schoolhouse Road in Ocracoke.
A third public hearing is schedule at 7 p.m. on March 18 at Pamlico Community College.
For information, call Summers at 675-0467 or Greg Piner at 670-4809.