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I may have lost an election, but I haven't lost interest.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The first fight I took up after being elected Town Commissioner was to defend the town's ownership of the South Avenue right of way all the way to the Harbor. I had no quarrel with the other board members or the previous board - all of them thought the right of way belonged to the town. But the town attorney seemed to believe we had a losing case. I didn't. I had read David Lawrence's book on NC right of way law and believed we had a winning case. Our attorney proceeded to lose the case at the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. The issue became whether to hire a professional litigator and pursue an appeal. I pressed for that, and the other board members supported the decision to hire Mr. Stevenson Weeks to handle the appeal. He won a unanimous decision by the NC Court of Appeals, as reported below. Now we await a decision by the NC Supreme Court whether they will review the case. The Court of Appeals decision appears to apply to all of the town's street ends.

September 21, 2009 Update

On the 7th of July, 2009, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Pamlico County Superior Court in the case of TOWN OF ORIENTAL , plaintiff v. LACY HENRY and wife, JUDY B. HENRY, Defendants. "The Town contends," the Court said, "the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Henrys and in not granting summary judgment in favor of the town. We agree." The court concluded its unanimous opinion as follows: "Accordingly, as there were no genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Town was the owner of the South Avenue terminus, the Town was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Henrys and in failing to grant summary judgment in favor of the Town. We thus reverse and remand this matter to the Pamlico County Superior Court with instructions to enter an order consistent with this opinion."

The Henrys petitioned the Court of Appeals for a rehearing, as was their right. The Court of Appeals denied the petition, whereupon the Henrys petitioned the North Carolina Supreme Court to grant a discretionary review of the Court of Appeals decision. That is where the matter stands.

In May, 2008, PamlicoInk published an interview with Mr. Lacy Henry. In response, I wrote the following letter to the editor of The Pamlico News:

May 21, 2008

Dear Editor:

In a recent interview, Mr. Lacy Henry seems puzzled that the Town of Oriental is suing over his claim to own the portion of South Avenue that he leased from the town for many years. “I am not sure what is driving the town’s actions,” he says.

There is no mystery here. The Board of Commissioners has a duty to protect the town’s assets. South Avenue has been a public right of way for at least ninety years and arguably for a hundred and ten. It extends all the way to Raccoon Creek. We would be remiss if we didn’t defend the town’s right of way. It provides public access to public waters.

Mr. Henry has a lot to say about this. Not all of it is accurate. At a hearing last New Year’s Eve in Bayboro, he told Judge Crow that he and his father before him paid taxes on the terminus of South Avenue since the early 1950’s. Public records show that is not the case. They have never paid taxes on the disputed parcel.

In the interview, Mr. Henry recalls with nostalgia his family’s operation of a marine railway at the site. Speaking of the railway’s remaining track and winch, he says “if you move it, you will never get it back.” He also emphasizes that he holds a CAMA permit for an eight slip marina at the site, combining the town’s South Avenue street end with the adjacent waterfront lot that he owns. He doesn’t mention that the CAMA permit allows him to dump four feet of fill and build a bulkhead and piers right where the old tracks and winch are located. It isn’t clear how this preserves the marine railway.

From the town’s viewpoint, we know that if we lose control over the end of South Avenue, we will never get it back. Future generations will never be able to use South Avenue for access to public waters if Mr. Henry prevails. Whether Mr. Henry’s planned marina is a good idea or whether it ever comes to pass is beside the point. Mr. Henry’s “successors and assigns” would be able to do whatever they want with the land whether or not it was a benefit to the citizens of Oriental.

If the street end remains in the town’s hands, we can build another town dock, serving as a powerful draw to the 14,000 boats per year passing up and down the ICW only two miles away. This would bring customers for all of the town’s businesses and a lot of goodwill for future business. Cruisers attracted by free docking spend money and come back. If Mr. Henry wants to preserve a piece of the town’s past and attract visitors, he can certainly find a way to pool resources and work together with the town.

The struggle between the town and Mr. Henry isn’t about the past – it’s about the future.

David Cox

Oriental Town Commissioner

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