September 4, 2008
ORV Panel: Let’s Keep Talking
By CATHERINE KOZAK
By Catherine Kozak
Despite an undercurrent of tension, mistrust and sometimes spitting anger since their first meeting this year, members of a group negotiating a Cape Hatteras National Seashore beach driving plan say they want to stay at the table.
An assessment by the National Park Service released Wednesday reveals that members of the off-road-vehicle negotiated rulemaking committee overwhelmingly support continuing efforts to create a long- term ORV management plan through consensus.
"I think it's becoming very evident that we are running out of time," said Cyndy Holda, a Park Service spokeswoman. "But it is also very clear that all members see their work as an important part of the process. It's just that everybody is so polarized, it's hard to move this process forward."
The committee of 30 stakeholders includes water men, business owners, conservationists, public officials, recreational beach users and property owners . The Park Service has asked the committee to develop a consensus alternative for a beach driving plan by January .
Part of the enmity has been fueled by legal action taken by environmental groups. A resulting agreement led to months-long closures of popular beaches.
At the Park Service's request, members were surveyed in July on how each would characterize the committee's progress; what would make it more productive; whether it should be continued to develop an ORV plan; and if it would be better used in an advisory role.
While only four members of what is known informally as the "reg- neg" committee suggested abandoning the committee work, they were split on the idea of becoming advisers rather than consensus- seekers.
As for improvements, committee members requested that the Park Service be clearer about its legal, policy and budget parameters. Another suggestion was that the Park Service unveil its ORV and resource management plan, then allow the committee to react to it. Others recommended that measures be taken to repudiate what was characterized as intimidation tactics by some members between meetings, and that facilitators take a stronger and more directive approach in managing the meetings.
Jason Rylander, a staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said his organization is committed to "sticking to this process to the end."
"I think that we are having some productive conversations," he said. "Whether the committee is able to reach consensus in all points is an open question."
Even if its members can't all agree, Rylander said, the committee is providing valuable input for the Park Service to use in developing its management plan.
Defenders of Wildlife, with the National Audubon Society, filed a lawsuit against the Park Service in October charging that the interim ORV management plan in effect did not provide adequate protection for nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.
In February, the groups filed a request for a preliminary injunction to close large parts of the beach to ORV traffic. A consent decree settling the lawsuit was signed in April, but the closures it mandated proved to be more extensive than beach driving proponents had expected. As a result, legislation was introduced in Congress to allow the Park Service to go back to the interim ORV management plan, but so far no action has been taken on it.
Frank Folb, a committee member and an owner of Frank & Fran's Fisherman's Friend in Avon, said he has become more pessimistic since taking the survey, when he said it seemed possible to find common ground.
"Since the last reg-neg meeting, it's become apparent that the environmental side is unwilling to negotiate below the consent decree, with less restrictions than what we have today," he said Wednesday.
But Folb, who represents the interests of Avon property owners, is also willing to continue.
"As far as consensus, there won't be none. It can't happen," he said. "I'll be there until they run us off. I will not quit."
The next negotiated rulemaking meeting is scheduled for Monday in Avon.
The report is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/ document.cfm?parkID=358&projectId=10641&document ID=24574 .
Catherine Kozak, (252) 441-1711
A committee of Cape Hatteras National Seashore stakeholders - including watermen, business owners, conservationists, public officials, beach users and property owners - was asked to agree on an alternative beach driving plan by January. the latest
While relationships among committee members have often been contentious, the group overwhelmingly supports continuing efforts to create a long-term ORV management plan through consensus, according to the National Park Service. committee suggestions
Some of the improvements recommended by members of the ORV negotiated rulemaking committee:
That the National Park Service be clearer about its legal, policy and budget parameters.
That the Park Service unveil its ORV and resource management plan, then allow the committee to react to it.
That measures be taken to repudiate what was characterized as intimidation tactics by some members between meetings.
That facilitators take a stronger and more directive approach in managing the meetings.
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday in Avon.
Originally published by BY CATHERINE KOZAK.
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