MOREHEAD CITY – Two Carteret County town boards took official stances this week opposing offshore oil and gas development and related seismic-blasting activities off the N.C. coast, joining a growing list of municipal governments standing opposed.
Beaufort and Morehead City join 18 other cities and counties in the state that have passed resolutions against offshore drilling or seismic testing, according to a list compiled by Oceana. The international environmental group opposes offshore drilling. In addition to the state’s other port city of Wilmington, towns on the list include Sunset Beach, Caswell Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Surf City, Manteo, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.
More may be added. Carteret County commissioners are expected to consider a resolution next week. In Brunswick County, Southport’s town board tonight will consider adding its opposition to drilling to a resolution it passed last year against seismic testing.
The Morehead City council approved a resolution Tuesday during the board’s monthly meeting. The resolution was proposed by a group calling itself Concerned Citizens and was modeled on a resolution approved in July by Wilmington’s city council. Beaufort commissioners approved a similar, town-crafted resolution on Monday during that board’s meeting.
Both Morehead City and Beaufort’s town boards voted unanimously to approve the measures, but three members of the Morehead City council balked at first on Tuesday, saying they needed more information. Discussion continued for about 45 minutes. The hesitation surprised Penny Hooper, Concerned Citizens organizer.
“They were not as prepared to take the vote,” Hooper said. “I thought the two sister communities would have talked, that Beaufort would tell Morehead City what they were doing.”
Diane Warrender, a Morehead City councilwoman, said she and council members George Ballou and Bill Taylor were pressured to vote by the two others, Harvey Walker and Demus Thompson, who both said it was time to act. Warrender said she acquiesced to avoid being vilified in a municipal election year.
“We hadn’t planned to vote on it last night. It was not an action item. It was on the agenda just for them (Concerned Citizens) to express their view,” Warrender said yesterday. “I have questions I don’t know the answers to. I made the statement that I felt I was being backed up against the wall and if I didn’t vote for it I was going to be the bad guy. I don’t doubt we would have voted for it at a later time. I just did not see the urgency.”
Thompson said yesterday there was a sense of urgency, especially to send a message to Carteret County’s board of commissioners, which is set to consider a similar resolution when it meets Monday in Beaufort.
“We had a room full of people. Harvey and I knew they were coming, I don’t know why the others didn’t,” Thompson said. “I love my area so much I don’t want anything to happen to it. I felt it was important enough to go ahead and take a vote and I wanted the county to know we were for protecting the coast.”
Hooper said Thompson and Walker “saved the day” in the Morehead City vote. “There was no intent to steamroll this thing,” she said. “They had questions about the other side but there is no other side. There’s nothing good about this for Morehead City. Carteret County is being asked to bear all the risks with none of the rewards. There are no rewards.”
Oceana’s Randy Sturgill applauded the voted in Morehead City and Beaufort. “Opening up the Atlantic to offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business; there are countless risks with little to no reward,” he said. “We encourage local residents and their elected officials to continue to speak out against this short-sighted plan to open up the Atlantic to dirty and dangerous drilling. Governor McCrory and the federal government should be listening.”
Meanwhile, Emerald Isle Manager Frank Rush said he declined to put a resolution against offshore oil drilling on the agenda for his town’s board of commissioners meeting Tuesday because the commissioners needed time to discuss the effects of changes in sales tax distribution that are being considered in the state legislature. However, the board, during its regular monthly meeting in the town hall, did allow some comments on the resolution a group of offshore oil opponents had wanted to present.
Speaking during the public comments section at the beginning of the meeting, Sue Stone, an Emerald Isle resident and spokesperson for the group, said she and the others – there were about 10 there – wanted Emerald Isle to stay “clean and green.”
“We have a large group of citizens here and we will mobilize for you on the sales tax issue … and we’re willing to delay our resolution for that now,” Stone said. “We appreciate that this town works to get things done, that you put politics aside and work for what’s best for the town.
Oceana says more than 70 East Coast communities have now formally opposed seismic air gun blasting, offshore drilling or both, including those in North Carolina. In addition, more than 90 members of Congress, roughly 500 local and state officials, more than 160 conservation and animal welfare organizations, as well as the Billfish Foundation, the International Game Fish Association, the Southeastern Fisheries Association, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, have all publicly opposed offshore oil exploration. In March, Oceana and others delivered more than half a million petitions opposing offshore development to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Also in March, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the effects of seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread” effects on fish and marine mammal populations, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which only about 500 remain.
“These efforts could destroy our coastal economies and communities for decades to come,” said Sturgill. “If allowed, this plan would open the East Coast to industrial offshore drilling for the first time in U.S. history. Offshore drilling in the Atlantic would lead to a coast scattered with oil and gas rigs, the industrialization of coastal communities and the looming threat of a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster.”
Portions of this story are reprinted from the Tideland News in Swansboro