OBX Access Lawsuits

Dare County, et al., v. National Park Service (2003)

In 2003, Dare and Hyde Counties in North Carolina and Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA), a beach access group, filed a lawsuit challenging the Service's designation of four units of critical habitat on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina (NC-1 Oregon Inlet, NC-2 Cape Hatteras Point, NC-4 Hatteras Inlet, and NC-5 Ocracoke Island). In its November 1, 2004 opinion, the court vacated and remanded the designation for these units back to the Service for reconsideration. The court held that the descriptions of critical habitat for the four units did not sufficiently exclude certain man-made structures and other areas that did not contain primary constituent elements necessary for the species' conservation, and ordered the Service to show that these primary constituent elements are found on the designated areas. Although the court did not invalidate the primary constituent elements themselves, it ordered the Service to clarify that these essential elements may require special management or protection.

The court also found that the Service's designation of critical habitat must include compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, although the Service's economic analysis considered the impact of off-road vehicles and other human use of beaches, the court felt it did not address information in the record about the possibility of closures of the beaches to such use or how off-road vehicle use might be affected by the designation. Finally, the court also found that the Service may have omitted from the economic analysis the costs of consulting on National Park Service actions, and ordered us to reconsider them.1

Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. National Park Service (2007-2008)

In the Fall of 2007, National Audubon Society, The Defenders of Wildlife and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit in Federal District Court against the United States of America to limit or ban access to many of the primary areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, including Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, most of Ocracoke and others.2

A status conference was held February 22, 2008 regarding a Preliminary Motion and Memorandum filed by the plaintiffs to close the beaches (transcript)

On March 13, 2008 the Dept of Justice filed a Response to the Motion for Preliminary Injunction in which they declined to contest the Preliminary Injunction.

In contrast, attorneys for the Intervenors, Dare and Hyde counties and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA), on March 14, 2008 filed a response that challenged the Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction.3

On April 4, 2008, U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle held a hearing where he indicated he was willing to grant the Plaintiff's Preliminary Injunction motion: he granted a continuance based on the parties indicating they were pursuing settlement negotiations (transcript)

A final hearing was held on April 30, 2008, where U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle signed the consent decree agreed to by the plaintiffs Defenders of Wildlife, the Defendent National Park Service, and the Intervenors (Dare and Hyde counties and the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance) transcript

The settlement has been hailed as "junk science". A more detailed analysis of the faults in the litigation and the settlement (including why the settlement violates Federal laws) is found on the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club website here. Legislation was introduced in Congress on June 11, 2008 in an effort to overturn the settlement and return to the Interim Management Plan that was in effect.

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