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A constitutional right to free beach?

Does North Carolina’s constitution enshrine a right to drive four-wheelers on the beach free of charge? One Virginia group is suing to find out.

The Virginia Four Wheel Drive Association has sued Currituck County, seeking a court order to enjoin enforcement of new regulations which require drivers who aren’t Currituck County residents to buy passes in order to park on a 13-mile stretch of the county’s northern beaches. The system requires non-Currituck residents to pay $50 for a 10-day pass or $150 for a seasonal pass.

The association is also seeking actual damages of at least $25,000, plus attorneys’ fees.

A press release posted on the association’s website says that the suit is based on Article I, Section 32 of the state’s constitution, which provides that “No person or set of persons is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community but in consideration of public services.” The association argues that, by charging a fee, the county is depriving non-residents of the “right” to drive on the beach.

As best as Sidebar can tell, no North Carolina court has ever had to decide whether free driving and parking on the beach counts as an emolument. But the county’s manager has said that the suit is meritless, and that the county will defend the ordinance in court.

Sidebar is skeptical that this legal argument is going to float. But if nothing else, the lawsuit gives new meaning to Winston Churchill’s famous rally cry, “We shall fight on the beaches.”

David Donovan (The Associated Press contributed to this story.)


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