A number of state lawmakers will be in Oriental on Saturday morning for an informational session on planned ferry toll changes, sponsored by an anti-tolls group and its supporters.
The 9 to 11 a.m. meeting is at the Oriental Town Hall, put on by Don’t Tax Our Highways, a grassroots group that formed in 2012 after the General Assembly ordered new and increased tolls for the seven coastal ferries.
The changes include first-time tolls for the Minnesott-Cherry Branch and Bayview-Aurora routes, used primarily by commuting workers and also by veterans going to Craven and Carteret counties for medical appointments.
The meeting is open to the public, but seating is limited to about 60 in the new town hall. Larry Summers, an Oriental commissioner and one of the anti-toll group leaders, said public seating would be on a first-come basis. He added that the legislators and their aides, along with those making presentations, would take about half of the seating.
He emphasized that the meeting is not a public hearing. He said the senators and house members attending are all on the record against the toll changes.
“We are not here to challenge them,” Summers said. “This is an informational meeting so that we can provide them with the background they need to go back to Raleigh and argue against the tolls.”
The toll changes will take place July 1 unless there is a reverse action by the General Assembly, which first ordered the overseeing N.C. Department of Transportation to generate an extra $5 million annually in 2011. An executive order by then Gov. Bev. Perdue put a one-year moratorium in place, but that has since been rescinded by the legislators.
The wheels are in motion for the tolls, including the recent construction of a toll booth at the Minnesott Beach ferry site, at a cost of about $67,000.
On Saturday, the expected lawmakers include area anti-toll supporters, Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, along with some other coastal elected officials. Among the inland lawmakers is Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, who introduced a bill against the tolls.
Other legislators expected include Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston; Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston; Rep. Paul Tine, D-Beaufort; and Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.
Pamlico County lobbyists Henri and Joe McClees are attending all the stops with the legislators.
Summers said the Saturday speakers in Oriental will include representative from Cherry Point, Potash Corp of Aurora, Tideland Electric and county managers from Beaufort and Pamlico counties.
Oriental resident Jim Barton, a retired Navy captain, will offer a history of ferries on N.C. 306 in Beaufort and Pamlico counties.
The Don’t Tax Our Highways group has contended that the ferries along the N.C. 306 route are extensions of the highway and tolls represent double taxation, along with highway taxes.
The visiting lawmakers met in Hatteras on Thursday and are scheduled to meet with the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association on Friday. The trip continues on the Ocracoke to Cedar Island ferry Friday afternoon. The group then will come to Pamlico County, via the Cherry Branch-Minnesott route.
Currently, four bills are in committee on the ferry issue in the General Assembly, including bills to abolish the tolls by Sanderson and Speciale. One bill calls for tolls on all ferries.
“It should be a good trip and give them a look at three of the significant ferries,” Summers said. “We want them to be able to have the information and perspective for discussions in Raleigh in their respective legislative bodies.”
Summers said the lawmakers were not using state or county funding for the trip, adding that the Pamlico County portion of the visit included food and lodging from residents and businesses.