EMERALD ISLE — A Cape Carteret woman is using social media and the written word to fight plans by Emerald Isle to enact a new automated parking system and fees at the eastern and western ocean access facilities.
Margaret McElwain said Wednesday she has written letters to Emerald Isle commissioners, who agreed during a meeting Monday to formally vote on the new system Tuesday, March 9, and to Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Director Alesia Sanderson, who oversees the beach accesses.
“Many of us living on the other side of the bridge, in Cedar Point and Cape Carteret, will not be able to afford access to the beach if these changes are voted in on March 9,” Ms. McElwain said. “Many of us are seniors on fixed incomes as well as young families with limited means. It makes no sense to charge fees seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. when the bulk of the visitors using the beach is on the weekends.”
Town officials, however, say that’s not as true as it once was, and many weekdays both lots are busy.
Ms. McElwain is urging people to offer the town some possible solutions.
Emerald Isle’s proposed one-year agreement with NCParking would replace the current flat $10-per-day parking fee with sliding hourly fees, which could range from $2 in spring and late September to $4 in late spring and summer, on holidays and big event weekends. The fees would be in effect every day from April 1 through Sept. 30.
The maximum all-day fee would be $16, but it would be less during the $2- and $3-time periods. Town residents will still get to park free, as will anyone with handicapped or disabled veteran status.
Emerald Isle Town Manager Matt Zapp has said national surveys indicate many people only park for one or two hours in beach access lots, so those people would actually pay less than the $10 flat fee, even in peak season.
But Ms. McElwain, 69, said as often as she and her two sisters – one of whom is disabled – go the beach to walk for exercise, those weekend charges would add up. She said she doesn’t want to deprive the town of income to help pay lifeguards and other beach-related costs, but thinks a compromise is in order.
“When we moved here (a little more than one year ago), we couldn’t afford to live in Emerald Isle because it costs so much,” she said. “So, we bought a lot and built a house in an area that was as close to Emerald Isle as we could get and that we could afford.”
If the new plan takes effect as proposed, she said, her family and others will not be able to afford to visit as often and town businesses might suffer.
It’s not just Cedar Point and Cape Carteret residents who are upset.
“This is a policy change that will affect everyone who walks or uses the beach in Emerald Isle from April to October every year,” Jerry Van Brunt of Swansboro said in an email Wednesday. “My wife and I walk the beach as much as we can for exercise. Seniors especially would be impacted.”
Ms. Sanderson presented other options Monday that included a season-long fee of $4 per hour, a season-long fee of $2 per hour, or either of those with a provision to offer anyone, anywhere, a $100 seasonal pass.
The board rejected the seasonal pass because members said they feared those who bought them would be upset if they came to town only to find the lots full. Mr. Zapp, who suggested that pass initially, said he understood.
“We don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver,” he said.
The town’s Facebook page has numerous posts complaining about the proposed change, although a few said those from out of town should be willing to pay a reasonable amount to support the access sites they use. Many, like Ms. McElwain, supported the idea of a seasonal discount pass for those who live outside the town but nearby.
Mr. Zapp said he thinks it’s reasonable for non-Emerald Isle residents to pay a fair price for use of facilities maintained by town taxpayers. In fact, he said, town residents who pay for the maintenance of the parking lots and other facilities at the accesses make up only about 7% of lot users, even though it’s free for them.
But, Mr. Zapp said the town is still talking to NCParking in an effort to address concerns raised by many people who have emailed or called him or other town officials about the issue.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.