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ECU compiles report on coastal counties

GREENVILLE, NC   (Feb. 11, 1994)   —   Excessive development is a top concern among people in parts of North Carolina’s coastal region, outranking the fear of offshore oil and gas drilling, says researchers in a study produced at East Carolina University.
The year-long study, completed this fall, sought opinions and collected information about the coastal communities and counties from Virginia’s Tidewater area south to Morehead City, N.C. A 1,300 page document, compiled by ECU for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, reported the findings.
“We were surprised by some of the results,” said Dr. John R. Maiolo, an ECU sociologist and one of two researchers directing the project.
In response to a question that asked people to name things they consider as risks to the coastal environment, Maiolo said oil and gas drilling rated below unplanned development, sewage disposal, over population and natural disasters in importantce.
He said people in only two of seven communities cited offshore drilling among their top five concerns. In both of those cases, he said drilling rated below concerns about about development.
“It means that residents and non-resident users of the coastal zone are ready for some serious planning,” Maiolo said.
In the study, the researchers asked for views on the most valuable qualities related to coastal communities and solicited opinions about usage of resources. In addition, information about the social and economic conditions in the counties was compiled and a program was developed to monitor changes.
“The collection of information,” Maiolo said, “is the most comprehensive and in-depth study of a portion of the North Carolina coast that has ever been done.”
He said the study will provide a baseline of information about region that researchers can gauge impacts of exploratory gas and oil drilling—should it ever occur. It will also provide government and industry with information to help in development and planning for many years to come.

Maiolo and Dr. John S. Petterson, president of Impact Assessment Inc. of La Jolla, Cal., directed the $795,000 Coastal North Carolina Socioeconomic Study. Maiolo is a professor and researcher in the Department of Sociology and the Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources. Petterson’s firm studied the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
The study characterized the five counties of Dare, Hyde, Carteret, Beaufort and Pamlico and the seven communities of Nags Head, Wanchese, Hatteras, Ocracoke, Atlantic, Beaufort and Morehead City.
It is a region that “depends heavily on its marine resources and its relatively pristine environment,” Maiolo said. Commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, military activity and retirement living contribute to the region’s social and economic character.
The report noted that while there are similar patterns of commercial fishing, water recreation, and tourism throughout the region, the relative importance of these varies by county and community.
Nags Head, Hatteras and Ocracoke, for example, contain a mix of tourism and commercial fishing. Fishing is dominant in Wanchese and Atlantic. Beaufort and Morehead City have diversified economies including some industry.
Growth in these areas varies too, according to the report. While the coastal areas are growing, some of t