Combative hearing precedes OK of new beach driving rules

By on November 22, 2017

New beach driving rules will prohibit most traffic from the hard-packed sand close to the water. (Dee Langston)

In the future, Carova Beach resident Don Hufnagle may think twice before speaking out during the public comment section of a Currituck County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Hufnagle addressed the commissioners Monday night, speaking against changes to the county ordinance on beach driving in the off-road area north of Corolla. It didn’t go so well.

“I really felt like Bobby chastised me for my opinion in front of the whole courthouse,” Hufnagle said in a Tuesday night phone call, referring to board Chairman Bobby Hanig.


“He held me accountable for my beliefs, and what I was stating about the safety issue.”

Like other speakers, Hufnagle asked commissioners to table the issue. But unlike other speakers, Hufnagle was called back to the podium for an exchange he described as angry. The back-and-forth between Hufnagle, Hanig and Commissioner Bob White left Hufnagle visibly flustered and dismayed.

Following public comments, the changes were approved by a 4-2 vote.

The revisions will keep most traffic off the hard-packed sand along the ocean between the North Beach Ramp and Milepost 17 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., beginning the Friday before Memorial Day until Labor Day.

The revisions are intended to keep the foreshore, or the beach closest to the ocean, safe for beach-goers by pushing traffic up to the toe of the dune line. It doesn’t change the rules for parking — which will remain in the center of the beach.


Commissioners Mary Etheridge, Mike Payment, White and Hanig voted to approve the changes. Commissioners Mike Hall and Marion Gilbert said no. Commissioner Paul Beaumont was absent.

Hufnagle was among a handful of people who spoke against the changes during public comments. Most were concerned with getting up enough speed in the deep sand to safely drive up the ramps over the dunes and into the neighborhoods behind the dune line.

Heavy vehicles that drive in the sand near the dunes leave deep ruts, which makes navigating at the toe of the dunes especially arduous.


Jane Overstreet, who lives in the off-road area north of Corolla, described the ramp at Milepost 17 as the worst possible ramp to try to come up on from the deep sand.

“If people have to stay on the high dune in Swan Beach, they’ll invariably cut back into the neighborhood to go down that one mile in the road behind the dune, thus endangering the tourists and everyone that rents in the first two blocks off the beach,” she said.

Like Hufnagle, Overstreet said she supported taking more time to consider the details of the new rules, instead of putting something in place Monday night.

Sandra Bancroft, who said she and her husband have had a second home in Carova Beach since 1995, asked commissioners to consider the north beaches’ older residents, who may be unable to drive in the deep ruts close to the sand dunes.

“My husband had open-heart surgery this year, and we depend on that foreshore hard-packed,” she said. “That’s how we come in and out.”

T.J. English, a Knotts Island contractor who builds homes in the off-road area, said he was also against changing the driving ordinance. “Let’s take time to go through these details, instead of putting something in place tonight.”

Hufnagle was up next, and he discussed a petition he had earlier delivered to the commissioners, which had a few hundred signatures and comments from people opposed to the revisions.

He had also addressed the board during its Nov. 6 meeting, as one of 11 people who opposed the new rules. Most of them asked the commissioners to table the issue, and allow public comment before making changes.

During Monday’s meeting, Hufnagle reiterated those concerns, and said he hadn’t spoken with anyone who had attended any type of public meeting where the new driving rules were discussed.

“Table it tonight, let the community, and let us help, let us get involved, and try to understand what we’re trying to achieve, because I keep hearing we want to restrict it …” he said.

Hufnagle said the petition and letters he’d submitted highlight how much people in Carova care about their community.

“Protect that beach, don’t let it go so far, and so crazy that’s it’s just impossible,” he said.

As he returned to his seat, Commissioner Bob White called him back to the podium.

“My question to you, while you’re up here, is do you have a suggestion for making it safer for the people up there?” White asked.

At this point, the public comment section of the meeting deteriorated into a tense exchange between Hufnagle and White. Ultimately, Commission Chairman Hanig joined in, interrupting Hufnagle.

“This conversation has gone on for 12 years, and nothing has been done. Nothing,” Hanig said. “Public meetings, barbecues, turkey cook-offs, you name it, it’s happened,” he added.

“How many countless bottles of liquor, how many countless bottles of beer; nothing has happened, nothing,” Hanig said. “It’s time to take action.”

Fire and rescue personnel were among the people who spoke out during the Nov. 6 meeting, concerned that heavy fire and rescue vehicles would be unable to safely and quickly navigate through the deep sand in an emergency.

A vote was taken on the changes during the Nov. 6 meeting, but since the outcome wasn’t unanimous, state law required the county to re-read the new ordinance Monday night and take another vote.

Because of the concerns of fire and rescue personnel, the new law was revised prior to Monday’s meeting to allow emergency response vehicles to use the lower part of the beach, making it the beachgoers’ responsibility to keep that lane clear of obstructions, and to get out of the way if necessary.

Hanig said deputies would be monitoring the vehicular traffic on the beach, and commissioners could go back for further changes to the ordinance if necessary. The county would also add signage to educate visitors and residents on the new rules.

During the phone interview, Hufnagle was asked how he would feel about speaking up again during a public meeting of Currituck’s commissioners.

“I feel OK, but I feel like I’ll be prepared with the points I want to make, without being forced into a discussion I wasn’t prepared for,” he said. He added that he was still unsure about the county’s objective regarding the new ordinance.

“They say safety, but they have a bigger objective for safety on (U.S.) 158. They have six to 10 people killed on that road every summer,” he said. “It’s a lot more dangerous coming to this beach, than being on the beach.”


  • Bud

    With proper air pressure, speed is not required to drive over dune-lines. Also, with proper air pressure a vehicle will float over the sand rather than dig deep ruts.
    This rule (driving at toe of dune) will cause more vehicle fires as well. But that is the fault of the driver.

    The only way to help the area is to reduce the amount of tourists, there is no other way.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 6:58 am
  • Drama Free Zone

    So, if you are not prepared to have a discussion, could that mean that you failed to research the issue fully and found yourself falling back on your own opinion and emotions. Governing by opinions and feelings is not a good practice.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 7:36 am
  • Liz

    This is unreal. To get up ramp 17 you have to build speed. You will have a mess there. People hauling groceries and supplies will get jarred to pieces. Heavy vehicles , trucks, horse tours etc will trench out by the dunes so badly that it will cause so many more people to get stuck. This is asinine. What you need to do is start telling people to watch their children and animals in the summer while on the beach. Parents seem to think they are off duty when they park there.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 9:37 am
  • Brian

    This is a perfect example of the good old boy system that has pledged of county for years. Did anyone believe that when Bob White ran for commissioner it was for the good of the citizens of Currituck county? I think it was to protect and enhance his tour business. He showed his true colors last night, special interest groups such as property management is what is driving him. Now to Bobby Hannig who I have always thought was a good honest person. How can you have an unbiased opinion when the property management company’s that send you business that brings in thousands of dollars of income each year. You proved last night that you can’t. Your aggressive behavior towards citizens trying to help you understand their concerns is appalling. And to Mike Payment who I discussed this very issue when you were running for commissioner. Your are no more that a puppet. I encourage all the people of currituck county to watch the video of this meeting. Bobby I bet you will not run unopposed in the next election. God help the people of Currituck County we sure need it.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 9:52 am
  • Carter McKay

    If you’re dissatisfied with Hanig & Company then I would suggest finding alternative candidates to primary each in the next election! Hopefully you’ll get the outcome you seek.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 10:28 am
  • Edna Baden

    As a resident of Carova Beach since 1995 I have been involved in many discussions with commissioners regarding safe beach driving. I actually co-authored the first “safe driving” pamphlet in 1996 which was later funded by the county. The bottom line issue is the number of visitors, both renters in the 4X4 and “day trippers”, that descend on the 11 mile stretch of sand during the summer months, increasing the risk of accidental injury (or worse) and loss of property. Mr. Hanig could not be more incorrect in stating that solutions have not been suggested over the decades, including the implementation of a permit system to control the number of people. The difference is that past commissioners met with residents to work together to find a solution and respected the voice of those who travel the beach every day, including volunteer fire and EMS responders on the 4X4. I invite the current commissioners to do the right thing and meet with residents and other Currituck county residents who drive the beach during the summer. Forcing drivers to drive the soft sand through Swan Beach where Bob White lives is NOT a good solution. Let’s work together to come up with a REAL plan to improve safety on the 4X4 beach.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 11:33 am
  • Carol

    They don’t care, they don’t live out here. Tow trucks will make a killing.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 1:15 pm
  • JR

    Thought County Commissioner’s worked for the people of Currituck County.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 5:38 pm
  • Duh

    Another enforcement issue/ tourists will be guided and warned how to drive beach
    Residents will be told we should know better and fined
    Meanwhile any commissioner woul/should know it is the almighty tourists with $$ who don’t know how to drive beach soTow trucks will prevail
    Would be great follow up article who will $$ benefit

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 8:15 pm
  • Jim Ingram

    This rule is asinine. The Commissioners who voted for this obviously have no respect for their constituents and apparently little experience driving the beach. I have driven on various beaches in several states for 39 years and know that this rule will be a disaster. It will be impossible to keep out of the ruts regardless of tire pressure. And you do need speed to get over the ramps. The only ones to benefit will be the towing companies.

    Wednesday, Nov 22 @ 10:40 pm
  • Hank

    Absolute stupidity prevailed!

    Thursday, Nov 23 @ 7:02 am
  • Salvo Jimmy

    It is interesting that driving on the hard pack is seldom available on Hatteras Island, particularly during Summer, since the driving areas have been reduced.

    Almost always, even in off season, hard pack is not useable, if for no other reason than fishing lines in the water, blocking that path.

    Thus folks air down properly and by necessity drive in soft sand. And there are steep ramps, ie 38 and many times now 25 & 27. Yeah sometimes someone gets stuck but generally that is from not airing down, as Bud notes.

    Thursday, Nov 23 @ 10:04 am
  • Bobby

    How many people have been killed or even injured by vehicles driving on the hard pack sand? Far less than those walking or biking alongside Route 12. This is not a law regarding “safety.”

    Thursday, Nov 23 @ 8:28 pm
  • Bud

    @ Liz, air down to 15psi and will be able to crawl up and over.

    Friday, Nov 24 @ 10:25 am
  • Salvo Jimmy

    Here’s a trick I learned from some dessert rats out West. Been usjing it for decades and it works.

    The optimum footprint for sand.

    It is not a one size fits all so you will have to experiment a little to find what fits your setup. Your vehicle should roll (float) rather easily over the sand and not require a lot of extra power (torque). And remember street pressure is not necessarily exactly what is on the door placard. The placard is nominal for a nominal load (usually indicated on the placard). Both street and sand pressures are load dependent (including passengers, gas, etc) and may vary front to back, depending on how you are loaded.

    Here is a place to start on airing down. Works for radials; don’t know about others.

    Load your vehicle, including passengers, like you will have it in the sand. On level pavement with the tires at street recommended pressure, measure the height from the pavement to bottom of the rim. Remember recommended street pressure on the door placard is nominal so more or less load means more or less pressure. And the height can vary front to back, depending on load, so measure both.

    Then drop the pressure until the height is ¾ of the street pressure measurement. This will give a nice flat footprint that will roll (float) easier over the sand rather than pushing down into the sand as hard tires tend to do. Lowering the pressure more generally does not gain you much and it can concave the center of the tread in toward the rim and thus you are riding more on the edges and that can also tend to dig you in.

    With the flat footprint you can also drive on pavement without fear of excessive tire wear because you are not riding just on the edges. Now that said you want to keep speed down on pavement because the extra flex in the sidewall can generate excessive heat and that is where damage can occur.

    I have used this for decades, staying aired down for weeks at a time, and have seen no noticeable degradation in tire wear. Just keep my speed at about 45 mph max, particularly in hot weather and don’t do long trips. But never hesitate to do a 60 mile round trip up and down Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.

    For my 4Runner this works to about 20 +/- 2 psi, give or take on load.The

    Friday, Nov 24 @ 6:29 pm
  • Salvo Jimmy

    And here’s a thread on OBX Connection that might be useful to some.

    Friday, Nov 24 @ 6:33 pm
  • Mr Lee

    I understand what you are saying salvo jimmy. I am over 60 and have been driving on the northern obx since I was 15. I never owned a 4×4 until I was 32. The difference between the northern obx and Hatteras island is we have lumber trucks, trash trucks, dump trucks hauling gravel, builders pulling trailers and a thousand other vehicles traveling the same areas daily in the summer. Now they want to restrict all this is a 50 ft wide area. How is this going to work for the renters up there in their BMW suv’s or other low ground clearance vehicles. The problem here is the number of vehicles per day. Our commissioners can not see this . . . You know this problem got really bad when the park service started closing your beaches and charging for the permit. Can you imagine what it will be like if the new bridge is built.

    Tuesday, Nov 28 @ 6:39 am
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