The state has announced two public hearings on planned ferry tolls, and a leading toll opponent said it is important for the public to attend sessions in Raleigh and in Pamlico County.
The tolls include first-time fees for the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch and Aurora-Bayview ferries. The issue dates to 2011, when the General Assembly ordered the Department of Transportation to increase annual ferry revenue by $5 million.
A one-year moratorium was implemented in the spring of 2012 by former Gov. Bev Perdue. Barring legislative changes, the tolls go into place July 1.
The new hearings are planned for March 11 in Raleigh and March 18 at Pamlico Community College on N.C. 306 in Arapahoe. Both meetings are at 7 p.m.
A Pamlico County public hearing on tolls drew hundreds of protestors in the spring of 2012.
Larry Summers, an Oriental commissioner and one of the local leaders in the anti-tolls movement, said he hopes to get as many as 100 people to attend the Raleigh hearing.
“It is important that we have a presence at both hearings,” he said. “We will get publicity in this area. If we can get the publicity from the Raleigh meeting, we could get that extra nudge to get rid of it. I am not politically naïve. I know that publicity is what makes people change their minds.”
Summers said he plans to seek a permit for a gathering on the grounds of the legislative building the day of the Raleigh hearing. He will also seek an audience for his group with the governor and the secretary of transportation.
He said the Raleigh trip would also be a chance to visit lawmakers from areas other than the affected coastal counties.
Local legislators have offered support against the tolls. N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, has introduced a House bill seeking no tolls for the Minnesott and Aurora ferries. N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said he is working on a comprehensive bill that would also address cutting expenses for the ferry system.
“I know they are both working on it, but if we can get the (General Assembly) leadership to support it, we can get somewhere,” Summers said.
Summers said he was contacting people in Beaufort, Washington and Hyde counties about the Raleigh trip.
About 50 people, including 40 from Pamlico County, visited the opening day of the 2012 legislature session to protest the tolls and present a petition with 1,500 names to the House speaker.
“We did get the moratorium and I think that our going up there was a major influence,” he said. “This year, I don’t think we’ll get another moratorium, so we have to get it knocked out.”
For the currently free Cherry Branch ferry, fees would be $1 for car passengers and pedestrians, $2 for bikes, $3 for motorcycles, $4 for cars less than 20 feet, $8 for vehicles 20 to 40 feet and $12 for vehicles more than 40 feet in length. An annual commuter pass for a vehicle 20 feet or less would by $150.
For more information, call Summers at 675-0467.
The March 11 Raleigh hearing is at Wake Commons, Room 100 C, at 4011 Carya Dr.
The March 18 hearing is in the Ned Everett Delamar Center at Pamlico Community College.
At each hearing a formal presentation will begin at 7 p.m., followed by public comments and questions. A sign-in desk will be set up 30 minutes prior to the meeting.
According to the DOT website, written comments can be faxed to DOT at 919-733-9150.
Mail comments to APA Coordinator, 1501 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1501.
Oral comments can be submitted by calling 919-707-2800. Ask for the APA Coordinator.