CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE - Private ferry operators for Cape Lookout National Seashore will soon no longer be able to take visitors to the park. The National Park Service has decided to consolidate the ferry system to one private ferry company, contracted by the park.
Park officials said planning for the move started 7 to 8 years ago. Consolidation is meant to make things more organized in the park and provide the public good and reliable transportation to the park.
Cape Lookout National Seashore superintendent, Pat Kenney, said permits leave the park little control over ferry schedules and no control over pricing.
"Under the current permitting, we don't control the schedule," Kenney said. "If companies don't want to open, they don't have to."
However, there are at least 7 private ferry companies that bring visitors to the national seashore. Only one company can have the contract. Smaller ferries are worried the move could put them out of business.
"It's a federal thing and it's hard to stop," said Bill Downum, co-owner of Crystal Coast Ferry Service. "It's going to probably have to cause us to go out of business, because the large number of people that we carry want to go see the horses on Shackleford."
Downum said only the larger ferry companies have a chance of winning the bid. He said the ferry company will have to align themselves to a model that fits what the park service wants.
Superintendent Kenney said part of the project will include some improvements to the park facilities. One of the ferries will leave from the Cape Lookout National Seashore visitor center in Harkers Island. The other ferry will travel to and from the islands from the town of Beaufort.
Kenney said there are multiple bids in on the ferry service. It's unclear which company the park service will choose.
The contract will begin in Spring 2014.