Senator Basnight is asking state leaders to continue funding the illegal project known as the renovation of Lake Mattamuskeet Lodge. The dilapidated facility, now owned by the State of North Carolina, was designed as a pumping station and was later converted to  a rustic hunting lodge.  It is slated to become state owned and operated Bed and Breakfast that will compete directly with private businesses in Hyde County. State law prohibits such competition from any governmental unit in North Carolina.

The Lodge is owned by the State of North Carolina and is currently under the jurisdiction of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC). The federal government deeded the property to the State at the request of Congressman Walter B. Jones in 2006.  As a condition of ownership, the State agreed to restore and maintain the lodge and “provide visitor services…and implement wildlife conservation projects”.  The property will revert back to the federal government should the State violate these conditions.

If the renovated lodge were to be used solely as an educational/visitor Center, there would be no issue. However, someone has decided that the facility ought to be turned into a fancy shmancy lodge complete with a restaurant and catering. That’s where the State steps over the legal line.  Not only is an upscale lodge and restaurant at this location not a smart business idea (if you’ve ever been to Lake Mattamuskeet, you know this already), but it is illegal. The Umstead Act prohibits any governmental unit in North Carolina from competing with private enterprise. It makes specific mention of the Department which has jurisdiction over the WRC, the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources. The Umstead Act prohibits that Department from “constructing, maintaining, operating or leasing a hotel or tourist inn in any park over which it has jurisdiction”.

While it’s true that the facility is nowhere near being completed, the official plan for use has already been developed. A study commissioned by the WRC on the use of the facility was released in 2008. It called for guest rooms, meeting and event spaces and a restaurant and catering services. The study did not examine any other possible uses other than a lodge. When asked by Carolina Journal why other possible uses weren’t studied, the WRC said that “it would have increased the scope and cost of the study”.  It appears that someone wanted this to be a lodge with certain amenities so the deck was stacked in that direction. Senator Basnight and officials at the WRC insist the study is just a draft.  However, the official WRC website for the facility says, ”

It is slated to reopen as a lodge, meeting site and museum, nestled, just as always, along the picturesque shore of Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County”

So will it be a lodge? Or won’t it?  No one will know for sure until millions more are spent.

Download a PDF of the study and its appendices.

As for getting around the pesky Umstead Act, the authors of the study have that all figured out. The study suggests that

“the WRC should approach Senator Basnight about amending the Umstead Act to ensure that the Lodge can operate successfully, legally and appropriately”

That’s right, just have Senator Basnight take care of that little legal matter.  Do the authors of the study not understand that the Umstead Act was enacted for a reason?  You can’t just go and order an exception to it when it suits you.

As for promoting local businesses, the study says it is an important consideration. However, with regard to dining, promoting local businesses is not really that important.   The authors say that since the nearest restaurant is 12 miles away

“options should be available for guests who do not want to drive such a long distance for every meal”

You restaurant owners in Hyde should just put up their ‘for sale’ sign now. Subsidized meals are coming to town.

Once this place is open, any operating losses will be absorbed by the taxpayer, count on that. And every stop will be pulled out to keep the place open after such a large investment in time and money.  Recent news reports say that $5 million has already been spent on the project.  Basnight’s request for funding this illegal boondoggle should be denied.  Fortunately for North Carolinians, the State must obtain approval from the Council of State in order to incur special indebebtedness related to capital projects.  The Council of State recently questioned the need for more debt given the current state of our economy.  (What is the Council of State?)

While originally designed as a pumping station to drain the lake, the lodge has done nothing but drain the resources of investors and taxpayers since it’s inception.     The Republican leadership should re-examine the aim of this project and make plans to either make it a visitor center or give it back to the federal government.