The parking facilities on the mainland used by Bald Head Island ferry passengers and barge operations that serve the island, both owned by Bald Head Island Limited, are now regulated by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The commission announced the decision Dec. 30, 2022, in a ruling for the Feb. 16, 2022, Village of Bald Head Island’s complaint and request for determination of public utility status against Bald Head Island Transportation Inc. and Bald Head Island Limited LLC. The complaint requests that the commission determine if the privately owned parking lot operations and tugboat and barge operations are subject to the commission’s jurisdiction and regulatory authority, according to the order.
The commission is state agency that regulates the rates and services of all investor-owned public utilities such as electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater, buses and ferryboats. Bald Head Island’s ferry operations, also owned by Bald Head Island Limited, have been under the commission’s jurisdiction.
The roughly 40-acre parking facilities are beside Deep Point Terminal in Southport, where the ferry docks on the mainland, and consists of 2,302 parking spaces divided into general, premium, contractor and employee lots. This is the only available parking for the passenger ferry.
Because the island is only accessible by boat or ferry, the commission concluded that the parking facilities “provide the only reasonable means of public parking for ferry passengers and the only reasonable access to the Deep Point Terminal, there is no existing alternative or reasonably substitutable parking facility or service available to the public at this time, and, as a result, the Parking Facilities are necessary to the operation of the Ferry Operations.”
The tugboat and barge are used to transport materials, goods, and supplies, primarily in vehicles, as well as contractors, vendors, and others, to and from the Island, according to the order.
Bald Head Village Mayor Peter Quinn explained in a Dec. 31, 2022, newsletter that the commission, which ruled favorably on the village’s petition asking for regulation of the parking and barge operations serving the island, agreed that the commission has regulatory authority over parking and the barge, in addition to the ferry/tram service.
“As a result of this order, there is unlikely to be any immediate change to parking and barge operations. Still, the order ensures that the complete, consolidated transportation system will be subject to regulatory oversight in the public interest so long as the system is owned privately,” Quinn said.
Bald Head Island Transportation is owned by Bald Head Island Limited, part of estate of Cynthia and George Mitchell. The original developer of the Island, George Mitchell, died in 2013, and his estate is trying to divest various holdings. An asset-purchase agreement between Bald Head Island Limited and Raleigh-based SharpVue Capital for the ferry, parking and barge operations was announced in May 2022.