Usually when vacationers head to Hatteras they get there by crossing Bonner Bridge and heading south on Highway 12- but thanks to Hurricane Irene there are two large inlets and several others, that have forced no land access for the area. Since N.C. 12 is still impassable north of Rodanthe, the only way for visitors to get to the island’s southern communities is by making a reservation on a ferry from the mainland or driving through Ocracoke and taking the free ferry to Hatteras Village.
With the ferry system booked beyond capacity, tourism officials urged Dare County Thursday to reconsider the decision to open lower Hatteras Island to tourists. The ferries are booked through next Tuesday. Saturday reservations, when most rentals turn over, are also booked solid.
Scot Leggat, a Hatteras Island real estate executive, asked the Dare County Tourism Board to pass a resolution seeking another look at the call to reopen Hatteras Village, Frisco, Buxton and Avon. Re-entry for tourists started Thursday morning. County Manager Bobby Outten said Thursday that he and members of the Board of Commissioners made their decision in the interests of people in Dare County who faced losing their jobs if some business did not return to the island.
He acknowledged that officials were aware of the potential problem with ferry access, but they weighed that against the prospect of layoffs by businesses struggling in the three weeks since Hurricane Irene and believes this decision couldn’t be rescinded now.
Complicating any decision is that some travel insurance no longer is valid if a mandatory evacuation order is lifted. So in many cases, vacationers who have already paid for their rentals cannot get to them and may not be reimbursed.
The emergency ferry from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe is reserved for residents, property owners, essential personnel and vendors. Opening that ferry route to tourists would likely mean losing FEMA funding to keep it running. The decision has also created a backlash on Ocracoke Island because Hatteras vacationers are now competing for limited ferry reservations.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is making $10 million in emergency repairs that include building a temporary bridge over the largest inlet, which is in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and filling the rest with sand. Transportation officials say the road could be re-opened sometime in October but no decision on permanent repairs has been made.