The Board of Supervisors will add its voice to those of Chincoteague town officials who are determined to battle efforts to eliminate or reduce beach parking at Assateague Island National Seashore in favor of a shuttle system.
The vote came after Chincoteague Councilman John Jester made a plea for the county to join the town in supporting the continuation of parking at the beach.
A study by Volpe National Transportation Systems Center commissioned by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in anticipation of the updating of the refuge's master plan in the coming years gave four options for getting visitors to the beach --two of which involved some type of shuttle service. The transportation alternatives are partly in response to the threat of rising sea levels and storms that have necessitated the rebuilding of the parking lots at the beach after each winter in recent years.
"Wherever Volpe's been, shuttles seem to follow in national parks," Jester said. He called the idea of families taking a shuttle bus to the beach, loaded down with all their gear, "ridiculous."
Jester said 500 surveys returned to a beach access committee of the town showed 80 percent of those surveyed say they come to Chincoteague to go to the beach; 80 percent said they would not feel safe during a storm at the beach; and 75 percent said if a shuttle service is implemented they would think about not coming back to vacation there.
Jester said Accomack County in 2009 collected $401,500 in hotel taxes from Chincoteague and the town's real estate represents $1.1 billion out of a total in the county of $3.6 billion, with 45 percent or more of homes on the island being second or vacation homes. Those property values, and taxes collected by the county, would likely decrease if the beach was no longer accessible by private vehicle, he said.
"The bottom line is the economy of Chincoteague and of Accomack will suffer," he said.
County supervisors appeared to agree wholeheartedly with Jester.
"I hope this board will do anything they can to prevent the shuttle service," Supervisor Jack Gray said. Ron Wolff agreed, as did Donald Hart Jr., who said of the Fish and Wildlife Service, "In their opinion, human beings are a nuisance."
Hart made the motion to support a letter Chincoteague will write objecting to the proposed elimination of beach parking and also to ask state and federal elected officials to go on the record as to what their stance is on the matter.
Supervisor Wanda Thornton of Chincoteague said the same issue came up in 1999 but was thwarted by a concerted effort including local officials making several trips to Washington, D.C., to present their case.
"The deal was then that they were going to bus the people from Wallops ... We were able to change that whole equation then and we can do it now," she said.