Thursday, March 5, 2009

TRIPPIN’ OUT:A conversation with the voice of surfing – and other watersports – in the fight to maintain access on Cape Hatteras

Meet Trip Forman. As an owner of Real Watersports in Rodanthe, for the past two years, Trip’s spent hours upon hours making sure that surfers and other beach users can continue to enjoy Cape Hatteras in the face of questionable suit by Audubon and others to close the Seashore to ORV use – as well as pedestrians. The conversation shows just why the suit’s questionable, but one of my favorite things was when I explained the Surf-First concept and the need for hard, demographic and economic data to prove surfers impact and defend our rights in issues around the country. Not only did he say kiteboarding have that same problem, he said it took a magazine to finally get the numbers they needed. (Hmmm.) He also said the numbers came back showing that kiteboarders occupy a higher socio-economic status than they ever realized. (Hmmm, again.) And finally – this is my favorite part – he said, “Now I see those kiteboarding numbers spouted everywhere, a Fortune article, a Time article — everywhere. That research was so worth it.”

That all sounds so…so…eerily familiar.

Okay, enough masturbatory, narcissistic back-patting, let’s hear what Trip has to say about the what went down the past two years, and what we can do moving forward to keep surfing Hatteras. And – in my humble opinion – make sure they’re a plenty of selfish humans willing to protect it for a much larger fight to come, namely offshore oil. (And, yes, I called that one, too.)

So, I drove by the meeting place on Friday and there were no cars parked. What happened?
They terminated the meeting at the end of the first day, because neither side saw any consensus.

So it really was the failure people were saying it was?
I don’t think it was. As far as not reaching a unanimous consensus – yes, because they didn’t reach a unanimous consensus. As far as being a failure? No. Because a lot of valuable information came out over the course of the committee period in terms of how the beach was used from each of those user groups. Prior to this, the park was only superficially knowledgeable on how it was being used and now they have a much more specific idea.

Do you think surfers’ voices were heard loudly and clearly enough? Or were we sort of under-represented being one member out of 30?
Well, to be honest that’s why we got involved. At first it was 28 people with no representation for surfing or kiteboarding or paddleboarding or anything. There were people representing what happened on the beach, but nobody was representing what happened in the water. And we were involved in the whole process. Plus, everything was voted on a unanimous basis versus a majority basis, so we head the ability in every situation to say “I will not accept this proposal." A perfect example: at one point the pedestrian-only group was trying to lay claim to a popular ramp used by surfers, kiteboarders, windsurfers, families -- everyone. And we said, “We won‘t let that happen." And it didn’t.

My biggest fear is, in the end, watersports might get squeezed out because certain groups spoke more loudly over the public comment period. After all, there are more retired fishermen than surfers.
Well, that’s true. But we did have the notables who came in – Jim Vaughn, Bob Holland and Jesse Hines – which was way appreciated. And of course, Kelly and CJ chimed in. I also had a lot of people tell me their input as to what was important to them. And we chimed in on every single decision, whether it was the Lighthouse, or the Cove, or S-Turns or South Beach, we said, “This is where people surf.” So when it came to a location, we were there to provide expert information, in terms of where we needed access, times of year, etc. And that information will get weighed in when they make their final decisions. The one break that continues to be a problem, the biggest turf battle, is the Cove because of the bird closures in the summer. And there’s also a proposal for nighttime closures for sea turtles as well, which would effectively eliminate dawn patrols for people who have to work. Our personal thought on that is there could be a significant greater gain in turtle count if they were to work with communities to have a turtle-friendly lighting ordinance rather than nighttime closures; because it;s not ORV’s killing turtles on Cape Point. So there will be no net gain from nighttime closures, there will only be net loss by the fishermen who can‘t access it at night and the surfers who can’t access in the early morning.

Did they ever determine just how much ORV access is affecting the wildlife? It seems both sides always said the science was on their side, but I know the first meeting I went to, the bird scientists themselves said predation and natural causes were the leading causes of mortality.
I came to this with an open mind. I came to it wanting to represent water sports, but also wanting to hear the science to understand it better. And there really was no science put out there saying, “this is what’s happening on Cape Hatteras.” It was this is what’s happening on the entire East Coast, this is a policy for world recovery, this is Daytona, Florida — and we should apply that to Cape Hatteras. And not even necessarily “this is what’s working” but “this is what we’re doing.” And the number one thing killing everything on Cape Point is storm overwash and predation. Those two are responsible for between 90 and 98 % of the losses. So they’re focusing their whole recovery plan on 2% to 10% of the problem. And anyone who runs a business or some other project will tell you: when you have a problem, that 90% to 98% is where you focus your time and effort.

So why do they hold to the 'close the beach solution if it’s not a solution?
I don’t know. From a logical standpoint, nobody is looking at the meat of the problem and how to solve it. They’re looking at it with horse blinders on. There’s a couple things we’ve suggested that may or may not get through. Back to the turtle thing, there would be a far greater effect of leaving the point open at night and adding a light ordinance, that’s a net loss to everyone. There will be no more turtles, and nobody enjoying the cape at night. And closing cape point ,you may or may not get more pairs of chicks, but you’ll definitely see the economy drop between 20 and 50% of revenue depending on the business because the Point’s closed. We’re on the very southern edge of the plover recovery plan of which we’re a single digit percentage of that recovery plan. So a national park is being closed to citizens in defense of a micro-percentage of a species that – while it’s making a comeback in its other habits – is having no difference right here either way.

Are those economic numbers confirmed? I’ve heard some say there’s been no economic effect from the closed beaches…
They’re full of it. There’s tackle shops going out of business, there’s hotels having their worst years ever. And the restaurants, rental houses having their worst years in a long time. But that’s the other problem: they never did an economic study on Hatteras of any kind. The only economic input was from public comment, so they need to consider that as well. 100% of the businesses on Hatteras Island support ORV. And of the residents and rental property owners, I’d say 99% support ORV.

Did anyone publicly comment that they did want the beaches closed?
I think there was one person maybe who made that comment over two years.

So it really is outside organizations using federal law to flex their will in a local community without a whole lot of consideration or scientific support.
Again, there was no science from Cape Hatteras. And all the science was experts whose born cause was to bring this bird back, not anyone who was independently studying what was happening here. Whether it was a local or national recovery plan, the storms themselves rule out those results on Cape Hatteras. Another good example is they’re closing off major sections of the beach for the American Oystercatcher, yet there’s hundreds of American Oystercatchers on the dredge islands in the sound. But they will not count those because they’re not legally within the boundaries of the park. You’re literally standing on the national park looking at a dredge island full of oyster catchers and they’ll close the beach if one lands on cape point.

And this isn’t just beach driving either; it’s pedestrians, too, correct?
There’s talk of the walking buffers not being as drastic as the vehicle buffers. But this is another case of the science not making sense. Because every so-called scientist – and again, they aren’t talking about Cape Hatteras – but, again, every single one said that people walking by are a bigger disturbance than cars. So they say that, and they testify to that, but they create a plan that lets you walk closer than the cars.

Did they go so far as to create a plan that says you can take your 4Runner on the beach but not an Expedition?
Oh, because of the Toyota thing? [Audubon accepted a $20 million donation from Toyota.] No, but I don’t think Toyota knew what they were getting involved in when they threw $20 million at Audubon; because I must know 50 people firsthand now who won't buy a Toyota truck.

That’s what ‘s killing me. We’re headed toward a huge offshore oil battle in NC and these guys managed to piss off the most dedicated, loyal beach users of all time — some of the most potentially valuable allies – over an issue that may seem important, but won’t mean the beginning or end of any species. Yet, one oil spill could damage the ecosystem and economy to degrees we’ve never seen. We may never get them on our side. It just seems so short-sighted. So what’s the rest of the process?
Well, a government fact-finding process called NEPA has been happening this whole time in case NegReg failed. That’s how they normally come to these decisions anyway. So they’ll take the information from the NegReg process into account and the park will have to come to some long-term plan based on all the information they get. And they’ve asked for my input by March 26.

So how do we get our voices heard – without having people write in threatening to chop the balls off of every piping plover?
Well, that’s what I’m worried about. Because that’s what we don’t want. We want the birds to flourish. We want the turtles to flourish. But the problem with this process is nothing’s flourishing -- the wildlife isn’t, the user groups sure aren’t, and neither are the businesses. What we want is for the park to look toward this situation with a ‘net gain’ approach: find a way where the wildlife gains, the users gain, and the businesses gain. There’s a way to do that. But right now it’s all net loss.

If people send me a name, address, phone number and email, I’ll collect them and put them at the bottom of my summation, asking them to keep Cape Hatteras open for the prolonged environmental protection and economic survival. Our goal through the whole process is the new plan needs to represent a net gain for the people who walk on the beach, drive on the beach, the birds and the turtles that want to flourish on the beach. It shouldn’t be all one way or the other. We need to look at it with an open mind and the final plan needs to represent a plan a plan where everyone wins. Because it can be that way.

YOU HEARD THE MAN! Email him at:
Kelly spoke up. So did CJ and Dam-O. And now it’s your turn.

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