Guest Opinion: Outer Banks leaders push emergency powers too far, taxpayers and property owners also have rights

Checkpoint at the foot of the Wright Memorial Bridge on March 17, 2020. [Sam Walker photo]

By Dallas Woodhouse
Editor’s note: This editorial first appeared at N.C. Civitas

One could argue that Ed Woodhouse has as much as a right to claim the Outer Banks and Dare and Currituck Counties as his own.

He grew up with my father, Wilson Woodhouse, in a little area on the mainland side of rural Currituck County known as Poplar Branch. Their grandfather sold supplies to the

Wright Brothers. Several Woodhouse roads are named for the family. James Monroe Woodhouse represented Currituck in the General Assembly in the 1800s. When my father left high school to enlist in the Navy during the Korean conflict, he was stationed for a time at Naval Station Duck.

Ed left Currituck to attend college at Louisburg College, and then Pfeiffer College, on a basketball scholarship. He settled in Raleigh, where he married and had three children. He served as executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and later served 34 years as executive director of the North Carolina Poultry Federation.

However, he was never far from Currituck and the Outer Banks. His parents are buried at Powells Point Christian Church in Currituck, and his oldest son is a permanent resident there.

For the last 32 years Ed and his wife Betty Ann have owned a modest condo several rows back from the beach in Currituck County. Their condo is only accessible driving through Dare County. Renting the condo has provided a modest retirement income for the two of them. It has also been a place of solitude and reflection since the sudden loss of their middle child Barry from a heart attack four years ago. Ed’s involvement in the Outer Banks was so deep-rooted that he was selected to serve on the First in Flight Commission to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first fight, as well as holding other important positions of leadership in the area.

But citing emergency powers, Ed and other non-permanent resident property owners are currently barred from accessing their land and homes in Currituck, Dare and parts of Hyde Counties.

Sheriff deputies are manning check points at the bridges leading into Dare and Currituck counties. They are checking proof of permanent residence including addresses on drivers’ licenses and checking for entry access permits. Citizens literally have to show their papers to enter these counties. In Hyde County, state Department of Transportation ferry workers enforce the county’s restrictive entry into Ocracoke.

According to Dare County:

Dare County has declared a State of Emergency due to the unprecedented public health threat posed by COVID-19 and determined that restrictions and prohibitions are necessary to protect public health and safety and are also in keeping with the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America. Visitors and non-resident property owners are prohibited from entering Dare County.
Dare County has amended the State of Emergency Declaration, and all current restrictions and orders as outlined in Dare County’s current declaration remain in effect until April 30 unless modified, extended or rescinded to meet changing conditions. As part of the declaration, restrictions on entry for visitors and non-resident property owners remain in place and may be extended, if necessary, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public. Law enforcement continues to work diligently to enforce entry restrictions and to take appropriate action for those violating the emergency declaration.

Virtually every day, on social media and elsewhere, rumors and stories surface about people finding ways to circumvent the restriction on non-residents and non-resident property owners entering the Outer Banks.

For his part, Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie has said officers have seen, and have taken action against, a small group of people who have tried to enter the county with a person hidden in the trunk of the car.

Local news reports indicate Currituck County is patrolling the Sound to keep people from accessing the beach via boat, a common legal occurrence under normal circumstances. Social media is filled with rumor and innuendo of people circumventing checkpoints, violating rules and behaving in ways others disapprove of, even if legal.

Currituck has cut off access to the beach side of the county for non-resident property owners and visitors to Corolla and the 4WD area.

According to Hyde County, the Island of Ocracoke is now off limits for non-resident property owners and workers.

Only people working on critical repairs requiring a building permit will be issued temporary entry permits. Other repairs will need to wait until the governor’s order is lifted to continue. Permit applications will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and will be verified before an entry permit is issued. Temporary permits issued prior to this order that cannot be verified using the amended entry guidelines will be voided. The NCDOT Ferry Division will have access to a list of all permits issued and will deny entry if you have not been verified.

In a public message, Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, stated:

“Once again, I will NOT apologize as chairman of the Control Group for the decisions we have made to date. I know EVERYONE is STRESSED to the max over this. My phone, emails and text messages are off the charts. I have answered every one with respect and compassion and will continue to do so. The County Staff, County Manager, EMS, Sheriffs Department, Health & Human Services, Public Information Director and Emergency Operations are going non-stop to keep everyone protected as best we can and keep you informed. I’m 73 years of age and I have never in my life EVER experienced anything like this. I’m stressed too but I will not stop trying to protect each of you as best I can. I’ve tried to wrap my arms around this awful virus that has effected the entire world.

Some local websites and Facebook pages from the counties are inundated with comments and stories covering the debate.

Permanent residents are clearly in favor of keeping others out, citing public safety. They voice frustrations at seeing license plates from other states, especially New York, although there is not an evacuation order in place requiring non-residents to leave, just a denial of entry. Property owners who are not full-time residents point out they pay taxes too, often requiring fewer services. They desire to prepare their property for the rental season, or simply use their property as they see fit. Many question a lack of a rational basis to deny them use of their own homes.

However, local authorities are clearly persuaded by local full-time residents who are voters, not by the broader group of taxpayers.

Sam Walker, news director for, says the debate is the classic “not in my back yard” dispute, driven by fear of the unknown that will have long-term negative consequences for the area.

“It has been ugly, it has been very nasty, and it is going to have long term have term impacts on visitation on the Outer Banks,” says Walker. “Because people used to feel welcome here, now they do not. There is a very vocal group who do not want others here. There has been a lack of southern hospitality.”

Walker says he worries about the extended effects to the area’s image, and to tourism, long after the virus crisis. Walker points out the ugliness on social media and on the internet, will live on in perpetuity.

And others of us worry about more and more power being exercised by state and local government, under dubious justification. Why should Ed not be able to self-quarantine himself in a house he owns? Why do others have a right to restrict that, simply because they live in that county a few more months a year and are registered to vote there? Where is the evidence that driving to his own property poses a significant public health risk? And does that risk warrant the violation of someone else’s private property rights?

And if this continues over an extended period of time, at what point does this blocking of access to owned property amount to a regulatory taking, under the “Takings Clause” of the Fifth Amendment? Normally the 5th amendment limits the power of eminent domain by requiring “just compensation” be paid if private property is taken for public use, but a regulatory taking occurs by depriving the property owners of reasonable use. Here Ed and other owners are being denied all use with what many consider a lack of a rational basis denying property owners and taxpayers their most basic rights.

More than 400 years later, we still celebrate the important role the Outer Banks played in the development of the new world with the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child, born in what would become America. Perhaps, even in these times of difficulty, we return to the words of James Madison the father of the American Constitution, that should guide us all even in times of crisis:

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”

– James Madison, Essay on Property, 1792

Inside Ed Woodhouse’s condo, photos and posters adorn the walls commemorating the centennial celebration of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s First Flight. The two aviation pioneers were from Ohio and like Ed would today be prevented from accessing the Outer Banks.