Confrontation Stirs Beach Access Debate
DUCK — If there is one philosophy uniting the long string of communities along the Outer Banks, it is that their beaches should be open and free. And accessible.
But the town of Duck is one of the few communities along the entire coast of North Carolina that provide no public access to the ocean shoreline. The adjacent town of Southern Shores also lacks public beach accesses, effectively cutting off a total of about 12 miles of ocean coastline on the northern Outer Banks to all but private property owners, renters and their guests.
That might be why the recent arrest of Duck resident Bob Hovey for using what a property owner contends is a private beach access in his neighborhood has ignited a firestorm on social media about private property rights versus public rights to access the beach.
“What it comes down to it is the closest access to my house,” Hovey said in an interview. “I feel like I should be able to use it.”
A confrontation between Hovey and two homeowners at the Sea Breeze Drive beach access in the Sand Dollar Shores subdivision on May 29 culminated in the owners calling the police on Hovey, who was arrested for trespassing.
In a Facebook video Hovey took and subsequently posted, a man and woman cursed at Hovey for using the access, while he responded that the access was deeded to the public in 1981. He also posted another video of police questioning his right to use the access to get to the beach to go surfing, which happened after police said that parking on the nearby street was not allowed.
Hovey has owned his home in the Osprey Ridge subdivision since 2003, but the access in question, which is across the street, is in a different subdivision. Property owners in the private subdivisions have rights to use designated accesses.
About two years ago, Hovey filed a lawsuit that has since been withdrawn against the town, claiming that the access and others in the town were deeded to the public in 1981. Hovey said he has a copy of the original plat.
“The beach is for everyone and something needed to be done to protect beach access rights in Dare County,” Hovey said in a Facebook post. “The town of Duck has received millions of Dare County taxpayer money for beach nourishment and other beach services.”
But Hovey’s business, Duck Village Outfitters, in operation off Duck Road since 1998, involves rentals of equipment for the beach and recreational water activities, which has perhaps made him more aware of the value of beach access.
“I’ve been doing deliveries and surfing in Duck more or less for 23 years,” he told Coastal Review Online. And as a surfer, he wants to check different places on the beach for waves. “I own a surf shop in Duck and I’m not allowed to access the beach to surf in Duck.”