Digest>Archives> May 2005

Wickie's Wisdom

A County Government Out of Control

By Timothy Harrison

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The “Good Ol’ Boys” of Currituck County, North Carolina have filed a lawsuit against the Outer Banks Conservationists who own the historic Currituck Lighthouse for illegally operating the lighthouse as a museum.

This is part of an ongoing battle waged by county officials, who remind me of Boss Hoggs and his dumb sidekick sheriff from the Dukes of Hazard television show. Currituck County officials have now even named the State of North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources as co-defendants in their efforts to shut down and drive the nonprofit lighthouse preservation group out of business.

Currituck County officials seem to have nothing better to do with their time and taxpayer money. They are still upset over the federal government’s decision last year to award the Currituck Lighthouse to the nonprofit Outer Banks Conservationists under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Even back then, the county government fought dirty, apparently thinking they were above the law. At that time, they convinced Congressman Walter Jones to introduce federal legislation that would have given the lighthouse to the county in violation of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, an effort that failed miserably.

Now, just because the county passes zoning ordinances, it thinks it can make them retroactive. They claim it’s for the good of the community, but in effect all they want to do, one way or another, is to seize control of the lighthouse so the county can make money from it even though they never contributed to the million dollars it cost to restore it.

The lawsuit filed in Currituck Superior Court, contends that the lighthouse had been operating for 206 days in violation of a county zoning ordinance, which states that no museums are permitted in the county’s R01 district, which is where the lighthouse is located unless the organization first acquires an additional use permit. Plus the county government is asking for fines of $100 per day to be imposed, once the lighthouse opens for the season.

The lighthouse was exempt from the zoning ordinance when it was still owned by the Coast Guard and leased to the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC). However, when the federal government awarded ownership of the lighthouse to the OBC instead of the county, the county said it would have to enforce the ordinance. Unlike the kid who gets angry and takes his marbles and goes home, the county wants the marbles from the rest of the kids too.

OBC has stated it doesn’t have to apply for a conditional use permit, which wouldn’t be approved anyway, because it operated the lighthouse as a museum before the county passed its zoning ordinance.

The county officials have also tried to pressure the OBC into selling the lighthouse to them, an effort that they are still pursuing.

A legitimate nonprofit should not have to go through what the OBC has gone through. If it happened to them, it can happen to other

nonprofits and that could jeopardize the hard work of other preservation groups nationwide. We must all take a stand in support of the Outer Banks Conservationists.

In the past we thought about calling for a ban on visiting Currituck County, but the county officials probably couldn’t care less. Maybe it’s time to call for a boycott on all travel to the state of North Carolina and ask for lighthouse people nationwide to accept the state of North Carolina as being OFF LIMITS to the lighthouse community. That wouldn’t be fair, but on the other hand maybe it would force some of the people of North Carolina, who have been silent, to finally stand up and demand their state government officials step in and regain control of a county government that is out of control.

That’s my opinion and I welcome yours. Write to me at Editor, Lighthouse Digest, P.O. Box 68, Wells, ME 04090 or e-mail editor@LighthouseDigest.com

This story appeared in the May 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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