Board is one of the few NC coastal governments that hasn't come out against offshore drilling and seismic testing

BRUNSWICK COUNTY -- “Save our Coast.”

Those words echoed across the parking lot of the Brunswick County Government Center Monday night as citizens held a rally to oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing along North Carolina’s coast.

The rally was one of many that have taken place in recent years, and it comes on the heels of Saturday’s “Hands Across the Sand,” where hundreds of citizens gathered on Brunswick County’s beaches and joined hands to show their opposition to the opening of the Tar Heel coast to drilling.

For years, citizens across the county have urged commissioners to take a stance against offshore drilling. But despite the pleas, the board has taken no action, opting to take a neutral stance.

In 2015 Brunswick County became one of the only local coastal N.C. governments to come out in favor of offshore drilling. The commissioners rescinded that resolution in March 2018 after a narrow 3-2 vote, but have yet to take any further action for or against drilling off the N.C. coast.

Southport Indivisible organized Monday night’s rally, with assistance from several other groups, including Crabby About Drilling, Oceana, and the Brunswick Environmental Action Team (B.E.A.T.). Martha Johnson, a Southport resident and one of the founders of Southport Indivisible, said citizens have attended the commissioners’ meetings for more than 16 months, pleading for a resolution against offshore drilling.

Johnson, who helps care for sea turtle nests, shared a story with the board. She told them that 10 years ago, she watched a leatherback turtle make her way onto Oak Island to lay her eggs.

“But then someone’s little yappy dog ran down there and started barking,” Johnson said.

She said that if the sea turtle was scared away by a barking dog, imagine how the noise from seismic blasting would affect it.

A dozen folks addressed the commissioners on the issue Monday night -- all opposed to drilling. Pete Key, president of B.E.A.T., said he had recently listened to a Republican debate and he told the commissioners, all of whom are from the GOP, that the party might have a “blind spot” where environmental issues are concerned. He urged them to take notice and to stand and protect the environment.

After the public comment period, the board did not address the issue.

Some commissioners say they want to maintain a neutral stance. Commissioner Pat Sykes said she appreciated the citizens for taking the time to share their thoughts and concerns.

“Without question, I agree we need to protect our coast and maintain the beauty and quality of life offered by our coastal towns,” she said.

Sykes noted that as a commissioner, she had supported initiatives to keep the waterways and inlets free of sinking vessels. But she said that she also supported “energy security, affordable energy and energy independence.”

“I would like to stay neutral so that I can protect our county when or if off shore drilling is discussed for Brunswick County,” Sykes said, adding, “At this time I have received no information (about offshore drilling) from the federal government.”

Commissioner Mike Forte said that while they had heard from many citizens who opposed offshore drilling and seismic testing, they only represented a portion of the county’s population. He said the board had also received letters of support for those practices.

“I have just as many emails in favor of offshore drilling as I do against it,” Forte said. “That’s the truth.”

So far, 13 of the county's 19 municipalities have adopted resolutions against offshore drilling. The New Hanover County Commissioners, Wilmington City Council and beach towns in New Hanover and Pender counties also have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

Residents Monday night said they will continue to attend the meetings and speaking out against drilling and seismic testing until the Brunswick commissioners "takes a stand, one way or the other."

Reporter Renee Spencer can be reached at 910-343-2364 or RSpencer@StarNewsOnline.com.