In late December, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington, D.C., ruled that a lawsuit filed by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) regarding the National Park Service's Final Rule and Off-Road-Vehicle (ORV) plan would be returned to Judge Terrence Boyle of North Carolina's Eastern District Court.

"The court finds that the balance of the factors weighs in favor of transferring this case to the Eastern District of North Carolina," Sullivan said.

CHAPA had tried to have its lawsuit - challenging restrictive off-road-vehicle driving rules put in place in the U.S. Park Service's Final Plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore - decided in Sullivan's court and away from Boyle.

CHAPA and its supporters believe Boyle's past decisions have shown favoritism to The Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, who hired the Southern Environmental Law Center to file a 2007 lawsuit that eventually ended in Boyle creating a 2008 "consent decree" that severely restricted Seashore beach driving.

 

Opponents of the Final Plan believe the results of a series of disputed beach-access rulings have added no negligible protection for wildlife species in the park, yet have resulted in enormous economic losses for citizens and businesses at the villages within the Seashore's boundaries.

 

Audubon and DOW started the process in 2007 by filing a lawsuit during the rule-making process. Their suit said National Park Service beach-driving rules didn't protect certain nesting birds and turtles. Boyle agreed with DOW and Audubon and put in place a consent decree with large, restrictive buffers and more closures for birds and turtles, especially piping plovers.

 

As CHAPA and opponents of Boyle's original decision feared, most of the restrictive aspects of his consent decree became part of the Park Service's Final Rule that became effective Feb. 15. 2012 and included fees for beach driving and closed much of the beach to ORV access and also pedestrians.

 

When the NPS announced its Final Rule, CHAPA filed its lawsuit, part of which was to have its challenge heard in Washington, D.C., by a federal judge and out of Boyle's jurisdiction. Audubon and DOW wanted the case transferred back to Boyle's court room. 

Sullivan said the suit should return to Boyle's courtroom because "undisputed and concentrated interests of local individuals, businesses, and other entities"and "significant ties between this controversy and North Carolina."

 

Boyle has scheduled a January 23 status conference for the CHAPA lawsuit in Raleigh.