RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It seems that tourism and sea turtles can thrive together, if visitor and nesting figures from coastal Dare County last year are any indication.
Figures from the Dare County Visitors Bureau show the county broke a record for occupancy taxes in 2012 with more than $382 million collected through November, compared with more than $367 million in 2011. Meanwhile, sea turtles nested in record numbers along Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with 222 nests found in 2012. The previous record of 153 was set in 2010.
The numbers "show me that the new rule is balancing various uses of the seashore and allowing pedestrians, drivers and wildlife to enjoy the seashore," said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
She was referring to a rule that took formal effect last year that restricts driving along the seashore in certain places and at certain times of year to protect wildlife during breeding seasons. In addition, permits that cost $120 annually were required in 2012 for the first time to drive on the beach.
The county collected a record amount of occupancy taxes despite Superstorm Sandy, which hit in October and damaged N.C. Highway 12, making Hatteras Island accessible only by ferry for almost two months. Occupancy taxes are charged for hotels, motels and beach houses and indicate tourism numbers. Occupancy taxes also increased on Hatteras Island from almost $99 million in 2011 to more than $106 million in the first 11 months of 2012.
Such numbers would seem to be music to the ears of Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. But Nettles knows that not all businesses benefit even while numbers are up county-wide.
"As far as numbers are concerned, it's reason to be happy," he said. "But it's kind of a mixed bag. We had another storm this year. It happened later in the season, so it didn't affect us as much in terms of overall numbers. But it's still something that the businesses and the people live on Hatteras Island have had to contend with — the access on N.C. 12 is just an ongoing issue for us."
Among those affected was Frank Folb, who has operated the tackle shop Frank and Fran's in Avon on Hatteras Island since 1988.
Last year "was probably as bad as I've ever seen in many, many years," Folb said. Limited fishing areas ruined spring, and Sandy, followed by two nor'easters, took care of the end of the year, he said.