Bald Head Island Village Council met in special session Tuesday to consider selling bonds to purchase the privately owned ferry system that serves property owners and workers. Council held a closed session, then emerged without taking action or offering any public statement.
Village spokeswoman Carin Faulkner said she expected council to reconsider the matter at its regular Friday, June 18, meeting at 10 a.m., which will also include a hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget.
Meanwhile, the state-authorized Bald Head Island Transportation Authority meets in regular session today (Wednesday, June 16) for an update on the increasingly contentious issue.
Tempers flared last Friday during a discussion about the ferry during the board meeting of the Bald Head Association, the property owners group for the island. Chad Paul, CEO for developer Bald Head Island Limited, contradicted statements made earlier by Mayor Andy Sayre. At one point, the association chairman also asked a member of the audience to be quiet or leave because he was interrupting Paul’s presentation.
Developer George Mitchell died almost seven years ago and his heirs want to sell the ferry system to help settle his estate. The system is the only practical way to access the island, and includes passenger ferries, a barge and tugboat, the tram system on the island and terminals at Southport and at Bald Head.
The ferries and trams are regulated by the N.C. Utilities Commission; parking fees in Southport and the barge are not regulated.
A state law passed more than three years ago established the authority to oversee assessment and acquisition of the system, much like a ports authority or an airport authority.
The authority hired appraisers, bond attorneys and other consultants and agreed to pay Limited $47.75-million for the assets, including a substantial amount of land on the Southport side at Deep Point Marina. Only days before the matter was to go before the state’s Local Government Commission (LGC), which regulates municipal and county finances, Village officials raised concerns about the sale price and the issuance of $56.14-million in revenue bonds. The village government stated it wanted to buy the system for a better price.
Two experienced businessmen who live on the island offered arguments against the appraised value. More recently, in a letter dated June 8, 51 island residents raised similar concerns and asked, in part, for a third-party evaluation.
One of the points Mayor Sayre raised at the Association meeting was that he believed the system had deferred maintenance issues that were not properly accounted for and said there were issues at both terminals that precluded visitors from having a positive first impression.
Sayre also said islanders had been “pretty much in the dark” about the process for three years.
At the association meeting, Paul denied that statement and noted he provided a confidential initial appraisal of the system to the village council that amounted to $55.7-million.
Paul noted there were multiple meetings in several cities to raise awareness of the planned sale. The sale would keep the system revenue-based and not burden the island’s taxpayers, he said.
The authority’s 11 members include Sayre, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Brown and two island residents.
Authority Chairwoman Susan Rabon (who is also a property owner on Bald Head) agreed in a May 20 letter to the village to create a task force made up property owners and residents of the village, along with some members of the authority. The group, she suggested, would look at operations, capital expenditures, governance and processes for the authority to consider.
Rabon said she and authority members were simply following the law, and noted that the majority of ferry users are vacationing, work on the island or operate businesses