A line of vehicles backs up this summer on Sea Oats Trail from the traffic light at the road’s intersection with the Duck Road thoroughfare. In January, the Town expects to receive from its traffic engineer consultant recommendations for how it may mitigate this congestion.

Representatives from J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning, whom the Town has hired to analyze its traffic problems and propose solutions, were in Southern Shores last Friday for the one site visit that Town Manager Cliff Ogburn announced at the Town Council’s Oct. 6 meeting the Waynesville, N.C. consultant would be conducting.

J.M. Teague, which was one of four companies to submit a study proposal to the Town, has 90 business days in which to “complete the project,” Mr. Ogburn said last week.

That means that the contractor will be filing its report and recommendations, consisting of “various mitigations and best practices,” he said, sometime in January.    

Friday’s site visit, according to the Town’s Oct. 9 newsletter, was spent “gathering geometric data, taking current turning movement percentages, and conducting observations of the current vehicular volumes and movement that can be translated into seasonal numbers.”

In other words, they apparently cannot begin to do what they have been asked to do for $7500—which is to analyze the “[traffic] data collected by the police,” as Mr. Ogburn explained—without feeding their own new data into the “specialized” computer software that actually performs the analysis.

“They are taking measurements and gathering detailed information of all things associated with travel in our town including logging every traffic sign and traffic signal box,” the Town newsletter continues.

“They basically want to bring our town back to their office to help them with their modeling efforts and to determine the best recommendations that will best discourage use of the alternate residential routes and have the least impact on residents along the alternate routes.”

We do not intend to be facetious or skeptical in our tone in this article. We recognize this study as a necessary step toward obtaining any relief from the cut-through traffic that has plagued homeowners on Southern Shores’ residential streets for more than 10 years—traffic that was exacerbated this summer by an unprecedented number of vacationers fleeing COVID-19 for the Outer Banks.

We do have cause to be skeptical, however. Grass-roots efforts in the past—including the results from a Town-financed public mediation in 2014—have been ignored by a majority of the Town Council, including three members who are currently serving.

It has only been with the formation of the Citizens’ Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, which is chaired by East Dogwood Trail homeowner Tommy Karole, and the election of Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Councilman Matt Neal that the Town Council, by a 4-1 vote, got behind no-left-turn weekends this summer.

Mayor Tom Bennett, the sole dissenter, opposed every attempt made since his 2013 election to ameliorate the traffic on the South Dogwood Trail “short-cut” until the fateful weekend this June when desperately gridlocked vacationers resorted to Circle Drive as a cut-through route.

Circle Drive is as advertised. It is a road only Sisyphus would take to get to Corolla.

Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal serve as Council liaisons/advisers to the citizens’ committee, which has not met during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr. Karole told The Beacon that he has been in touch with Mr. Ogburn about the traffic study and will remain in the loop. He also said that our new town manager “is a pleasure to work with,” which is a compliment that we are not accustomed to hearing about the person permanently occupying that Town office.

We concur with Mr. Karole’s assessment. Our gain is Nags Head’s loss.

(We refer you to Mr. Ogburn’s message in last Friday’s newsletter in which he expresses an interest in meeting Southern Shores residents when it is safe to do so and invites people to call or email him with their “questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions.”

(“Southern Shores is a beautiful place,” he writes, “and we want to make sure you are proud to live here.”)

Mr. Ogburn selected J.M. Teague Engineering for this project because of the “professional services” it offers, he explained at the Council meeting.

Among those services, he said, are “remote sensing,” “traffic impact analysis,” “traffic control plans,” and “event operations and logistics.”

The company will run all of the data through “models” using that specialized software and will propose “multiple mitigation measures,” the Town Manager said.

The engineers’ report, he added, “will include where the measures will be placed,” as well as “conceptual drawings, implementation guidance, and a rough cost estimate.”

We eagerly await the consultant’s conclusions.

Next Council Meeting to Consider Long-Range Budgetary Planning, At Last

Mr. Ogburn also has taken steps toward accomplishing in a mere four months something that former Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald tried for four years to get his predecessor, Peter Rascoe, to do: He is engaging in long-range planning of the Town’s budget and capital-improvement projects.

The Town Manager would like to “start the process of capital improvement planning,” he said at last week’s meeting, “maybe a five-year start of a strategic plan that puts all of our assets and resources in one place that you can start to see the needs going out five years and beyond.”

Mr. McDonald and Mr. Newberry—especially Mr. Newberry—tried repeatedly to task Mr. Rascoe with five-year planning and beyond, but each time one or both Councilmen brought it up, the three-person majority shot down the suggestion as one that was not appropriate for a town manager.

We distinctly remember current Councilman Leo Holland, who previously served from 2013-17, saying that such planning was the job of the Town Council, not the Town Manager. Mayor Bennett, Councilman Jim Conners, and former Councilman Chris Nason agreed with this posture. (At the time Mr. Holland said this, Mayor Bennett and Mr. Nason supported him. Mr. Conners was not on the Council.)

Utter nonsense, of course. That a rigid three-person majority repeatedly rejected a smart message about the Town’s welfare because of the messengers who bore it, or, because of ignorance about what a town manager does (just look up the N.C. statute), was and remains a disgrace.

Next Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 9 a.m., Mr. Ogburn will lead the Town Council into the future at a budget-focused workshop meeting.  

See the workshop agenda at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-10-20.pdf.

Besides long-range planning, the other agenda items include:

  1. “A review of excess revenue from FY 2019-2020”

Accountant/auditor Teresa Osborne reported last week that the Town has a FY 2019-20 revenues-over-expenses excess of $660,975, largely due to a grant received for the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk; departmental expenses coming in lower than anticipated; and an increase in ad valorem taxes collected.

  1. “Consideration of expenditures removed from last FY and Current FY due to COVID-19-related concerns”

The Town “weathered COVID impacts better than anticipated,” Mr. Ogburn said, as did all of the Outer Banks, and the Council may elect to authorize expenses that it previously eliminated from the budget.

Ms. Osborne said the Town ended the 2019-20 fiscal year “in strong financial condition,” with no “traditional debts,” although it will have to start planning for future liabilities, including employee pensions and retirees’ health benefits.

You may access her annual audit report here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/audit-reports/southern-shores-2020-financial-statements/.

The Beacon plans to write more about the audit when we can.

As we reported last week, the Town’s unassigned fund balance contained $5,995,546 as of July 30, 2020. This is an increase of $1,822,225 over the balance in the fund as of July 30, 2019, according to Ms. Osborne. A working-capital balance of $1.75 million must be maintained in the fund for emergency purposes.

The Oct. 20 meeting will be live-streamed on the Town of Southern Shores’ YouTube feed, so that you may view it in real time, although you cannot comment remotely unless you view it on Zoom. See https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

With the live-streaming of Council meetings, Mr. Ogburn brings Southern Shores into the present to join all of the other Dare County beach towns that have offered this advantage for some time.

UPDATE at 5:10 p.m.: While The Beacon cranked out material today to catch you up with some of the local goings-on, Mr. Ogburn posted a 56-page document consisting of a memorandum to the Mayor and Town Council about “Long Range Capital Budget Planning,” and many supporting documents. We will read Mr. Ogburn’s work product before next Tuesday’s meeting and provide you with a summary.

See the meeting packet at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-10-20.pdf.

We finally have a real town manager in Town Hall.

Upcoming Events

Don’t forget: Fri., Oct. 16 is bulk-waste collection day. See The Beacon, 9/26/20 for the dos and don’ts of the roadside disposal. (Rejected material will be branded with an “X.”)

This Saturday, Oct. 17, the 12th annual Throwdown Surf Classic will be held at the Chicahauk Trail beach access at 9 a.m.

Usually held in September, the Throwdown Surf Classic is sponsored by the Throwdown Youth Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, for the benefit of the Outer Banks Relief Foundation, which assists local families in need.

And Finally . . . A Classy Apology

The Zoom feed of the Oct. 6 Town Council meeting, as you will recall, was attacked by a white supremacist Zoombombing, complete with swastika, menacing threats, and other sudden bizarre visuals. See The Beacon, 10/6/20, for the details.

When we resumed watching the Zoom conference, Ms. Osborne was speaking, and we reported that we “heard no one on the Town Council or on the Town staff address the hacking, but they may have.”

In fact, we missed an apology that Mr. Ogburn made for the Zoombombing to everyone watching on the public platform. He then said of this form of hacking: “I’ve read about it. I’ve never seen it. I don’t ever want to see it again.”

We cannot think of more fitting words.

No one on the Town Council said anything to the watching public.

(Next up: We continue our delayed effort to inform you about last week’s Town Council meeting. Thanks for your patience.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/14/20

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