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March 8, 2012
The NC Department of Transportation returns to Pamlico Community College on March 19 for another public hearing about ferry toll rates it’s drawn up for the local commuter ferries at Minnesott-Cherry Brancn and Aurora-Bayview. The hearing was announced in a press release sent out by the Ferry Division on March 8.
The hearing is happening even though Governor Bev Perdue in late February issued a one year moratorium on any of the tolls that the Legislature had mandated in last year’s budget. The hearing is about the rate schedule of tolls that DOT released this week, even though the moratorium prevents DOT from imposing them.Why a Hearing If There’s A Moratorium?
Ferry Division Spokeswoman Lucy Wallace notes that DOT is “following the Governor’s Executive Order” of not imposing the tolls, while at the same time, setting rates as mandated by the Legislature.
That way, says Wallace, “when and if we have to proceed” with tolls, “we’ll be ready.”
It’s that lingering possibility that has toll opponents continuing to campaign against the tolls.
Contacted Thursday afternoon, toll opponent Greg Piner said he’d been wondering “how to prepare for that kind of of hearing.”
In recent weeks, he’s been working to “not have a toll” and he is concerned that commenting at the hearing on the proposed fares will look like “negotiating for something I don’t believe in.”
Piner likens it to “going to the gallows and being asked if you want a white rope or a black rope. You don’t feel like you’ve got a lot of choice.”What DOT Proposes If There Were Tolls On Commuter Ferries
The rate schedule, announced this week by the office of DOT official Paul Morris, would charge $4 for a one-way trip on the Minnesott-Cherry Branch ferry, $10 for a trip on the Aurora-Bayview ferry. Yearly passes on the Minnesott ferry for cars under 20 feet would be $150 while they would be $200 on the Aurora ferry.
To read the full rate schedule as proposed by the DOT, click here. It’s written up as a statute. In the coming legislative session, toll opponents are fighting to undo that statute, and to kill the possibility of tolls on the commuter ferries for good.
The hearing at PCC 19th is another route to comment on the tolls.
Five hundred people, 4% of the county’s population, showed up at the Community College’s Ned Delamar Auditorium on February 15 for the DOT’s first hearing on the tolls. The auditorium holds 600.
Greg Piner notes that at the February hearing a lot of the public’s anger was “misdirected” at the DOT which was mandated by the Legislature to come up with the rates and then impose the tolls.
He says that at the hearing on the 19th it’ll be DOT again listening to Pamlico County residents, when in his view, the message of not taxing the ferries is one that would be better directed at members of the legislature — in particular the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Transportation which could set legislation in motion to do away with the tolls.
The retired Cherry Point civilian employee rode the Minnesott-Cherry Branch ferry to work for 33 years. Piner views the ferries at Minnesott and Aurora as a highway across the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. The state’s own highway map shows NC Highway 30 extending across both rivers; other toll opponents have noted that the state’s ban on taxing highways should apply to the ferries.
In addition to the March 19 hearing, DOT’s also taking emails and letters until March 29. They should be sent to DOT’s public involvement officer, Jamille A. Robbins at email@example.com Click here for the press release on the hearing.
For more information on the work of toll opponents who view the tolls as a tax on their highway, visit Tollfreeferry.org.