RALEIGH – As the Black-Norris-Geddings affair continues to dominate the political chatter in much of Raleigh and Charlotte this week, there’s another controversy rearing up again down east – an imbroglio involving, among other public officials, Senate leader Marc Basnight.
Wouldn’t want to make him feel left out.
I’m referring to the proposed state ferry service on the Currituck Sound. Longtime readers of Carolina Journal will remember that Basnight was instrumental in securing state taxpayer funds for the project, supposedly needed to transport schoolchildren from the barrier island to the mainland so they didn’t spend an eternity on the bus every day. As CJ’s Don Carrington has revealed in significant detail, the original justification was at least confused if not outright phony. Only a handful of kids ended up needing transportation, and a previous deal sending Currituck students to neighboring Dare schools, thus obviating the need for a boat ride, could probably have been renegotiated rather than abandoned.
From these near-comical beginnings, the Currituck Ferry matter turned serious and tragic. It led to an illegal dredging of the channel to be used by the boat, an act that prompted a federal raid on offices of the state’s Ferry Division and an ongoing investigation that may, we hear, yield some indictments or guilty pleas before long. There is also the heartbreaking story of Danny Noe, a former division employee who essentially acted as a whistleblower about the troubled project and was later found dead with his hands tied behind his back and a bag over his head (some authorities chose to deem it suicide).
The latest turn in this twisting tale came a few days ago when the Ferry Division asked Currituck County to delay seeking construction bids for the 500-foot pier needed to make the ferry service viable (the absurdity of which is yet another frustrating story). It seems that after several passenger-boat accidents, the U.S. Coast Guard may tighten the regulations governing the use of pontoon boats like the one supposedly designated for the Currituck service (though it’s not clear that the boat the state has acquired can actually navigate the channel).
I don’t know whether the delay is truly a response to the prospect of more safety regulations or the consequence of other problems, technical or legal. What I do know is that taxpayers across North Carolina have already spent far too much money on a local project in the northeast corner of the state with scant benefits but powerful political patrons.
Alaska has its bridge to nowhere, so I guess North Carolina must have its ferryboat for nobody.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.