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Toll Opponents: Fight Still To Be Taken To Legislature
Governor's Moratorium Buys Time For Commuter Ferry Riders
February 29, 2012

G
overnor Beverly Perdue’s one-year moratorium on tolls for the Minnesott-Cherry Branch and Aurora-Bayview commuter ferry routes isn’t stopping local grassroots efforts — nor those of the lobbyist hired on Monday — to get the Legislature to change course and bring a permanent end to the tolls.

Light at the end of the ferry dock at Minnesott Beach. Governor Bev Perdue’s moratorium keeps the Minnesott-Cherry Branch and Bayview-Aurora ferry routes toll free for now. Those opposed to tolls on the commuter ferries say they still have to take their case and their fight to the Legislature.

The Governor’s announcement brought some comfort to Pamlico County residents who would have had to start paying $4-$12 for the rides on April 1. There was a concern that once the tolls took hold, they would be hard to undo.

Work Yet To Be Done

But even Perdue, in her announcement, noted that the Legislature could vote to undo her moratorium before the 12 months are up. The full Legislature returns to Raleigh for a short session starting in May. It was the Legislature’s Republican majority that mandated the tolls in the budget it passed last year.

Pamlico County Commission chairman Paul Delamar said he was “grateful to the governor” for the moratorium. Still, he noted, the statute mandating the tolls on the ferries serving Pamlico County residents, is still on the books. “We’ve still got work to do,” to change it, said Delamar.

The ferry Floyd Lupton plies the Neuse River between Minnesott Beach and Cherry Branch.

That sentiment was echoed by Joe McClees, the lobbyist who Pamlico County hired for $10,000 on Monday to go to the Legislature to fight the tolls. Tuesday afternoon, McClees said that the Governor should be thanked for stepping in, but added that “there’s plenty of work to be done.” The job ahead: to permanently keep the ferries that carry workers to their jobs across the Pamlico and Neuse rivers, toll-free.

Going To Raleigh March 9

McClees, who is also lobbying on behalf of nearby Beaufort and Hyde Counties, says it’s still important to bring a large group of residents to Raleigh on March 9.

That’s the day that the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee meets. But as Greg Piner and other local opponents of the toll were finding when they contacted that committee in recent weeks, the toll issue is not on the agenda for that 9am meeting on March 9th, nor would it be added. And, contrary to what State Representative Norman Sanderson had told constituents at the DOT hearing on February 15, there would be no opportunity for the public to speak at that Oversight Committee meeting.

Local residents can’t put the toll issue behind them yet. The Governor’s moratorium buys time, but not a guarantee of no tolls in the future.

McClees is calling on area residents to go to Raleigh that day, anyway. After that Oversight Committee meeting, he’s arranged for all of the Pamlico, Beaufort and Hyde County residents to meet with and press their case to the co-chair of that committee, Senator Bill Rabon. Plans are for three residents of each of the three counties to make their case to the Republican senator from Southport.

In addition to co-chairing the Transportation Oversight Committee, Rabon is, more importantly, a co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which would be a key player in making a change to last year’s budget. Appropriations, says McClees, is where the issue could be decided.

Trying To Get Meeting With House, Senate Leaders

The McClees lobbying firm says it’s also requesting meetings with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger “to disucss the economic necessity to protect citizens of Beaufort, Hyde and Pamlico County.”

Those issues were not considered — nor raised by Pamlico County’s representatives in the legislature, Representative Sanderson and Senator Jean Preston — when the House and Senate majorities put together the budget and mandated the commuter ferry toll last year.

One effect of the Governor’s moratorium is that if the Legislature’s majority is still keen on applying tolls to commuter ferries, many more eyes and ears are attuned to the issue this time around. Residents have complained that before the vote last year, they didn’t have the chance to testify about the impact tolls would have on the two commuter ferries that serve as a highway carrying workers to their jobs, veterans to their medical appointments, students to schools and colleges.

Sunset in a viewfinder as a Pamlico River ferry travels from Bayview to Aurora. That’s one of the two commuter routes that are, for the moment, spared the tolls.

McClees says it would help to have the public write to Speaker Tillis and President Pro Tem Berger. Make it an individual letter, he says and “let them know who you are.” Phoning and speaking to them directly can make an even stronger impact, he says. (If you leave a message, ask for a call back, he advises.) McClees says the message to leave, whether by letter or phone, is a simple one: no ferry tax. (Speaker Tillis contact info: 919-733-3451; thom.tillis@ncleg.net President Pro Tem Berger contact info: 919-733-5708; phil.berger@ncleg.net)

Another help, says McClees, would be emails, letters and phone calls to Senator Rabon’s office “to thank him in advance for his support.” (919-733-5963; bill.rabon@ncleg.net)

The bottom line, McClees says, is that the public pressure needs to continue.

Getting On The Bus, Buying The T-Shirt, Signing The Petition

Locally in Pamlico County, County Planner Jayne Robb is coordinating the March 9 travel to Raleigh, whether residents are going by car or bus. (Contact info for Jayne Robb: 252-745-3081; jayne.robb@pamlicocounty.org)

There’s at least one bus being organized so far for the trip; Muffin Schmidt (249-1715) of Arapahoe says those seats are $28 and she’ll be taking reservations at the Oriental Farmers’ Market on Saturday March 3. Larry Summers of Oriental will also be at the market on Hodges Street selling the “Don’t Tax Our Highway” t-shirts and collecting signatures on the petitions.

Residents who want to circulate petitions on their own can download them from TollFreeFerry.org That site also has more info on the issue and what’s being done.

An email from the McClees Consulting Firm (Joe and Henri McClees) outlining the actions the public can take, can be read here.

Posted Wednesday February 29, 2012 by Melinda Penkava