DARE COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 5 DC) - During the summer months, traffic on I-95 can be bumper-to-bumper with locals heading south to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but few are heading there now, as Dare County has implemented some of the strictest coronavirus restrictions in the nation.
This week, a group of out-of-state residents who do not have access to their beach houses decided to challenge those restrictions.
“We’re asking for declaratory judgement. If the court grants judgement saying what they’re doing in unconstitutional, I would expect the county to stop the action and open up their borders in effect. Otherwise, then everybody could sue them and have a very easy case of it,” said attorney Chuck Kitchen of Kitchen & Turrentine.
Kitchen is representing six people – including Virginia residents – who own second homes on the Outer Banks.
They’ve filed a federal lawsuit saying the county ban, keeping non-state residents away during the coronavirus pandemic, violates the “privileges and immunities” clause of the U.S. Constitution.
If they win, Kitchen expects Dare County to reopen its borders to out-of-staters, and he says it could set a precedent if similar lawsuits are filed elsewhere.
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“It would be what we call persuasive authority, so if someone were to file a suit in that other state, then that federal court might very well look at this case and say, well, here’s a case that’s already been decided on point and I will give that some consideration,” Kitchen said.
Travel restrictions are also in place for nearby Ocean City, Md. – where beaches and the boardwalk are shut down.
Hotels and short-term rentals, meanwhile, are only accessible to essential lodgers.
In Delaware, the popular beach communities of Sussex County – including Lewes, Rehoboth, and Fenwick island – are also closed. Out of state property owners are allowed to enter, but only if they self quarantine for 14 days.
Voluntary compliance is the goal, but mayors say they will enforce the orders if they have to.
“One of the reasons that the states restricting them is that we don’t have the hospital system to be able to help them. We have very few ICU beds in Delaware and we couldn’t handle a big overflow of patients,” said Fenwick Island Mayor Gene Logan, who is also chairman of the Association of Coastal Towns.
“What I must tell you as the mayor of a resort community, it’s very hard not to welcome everybody. But at this time, however, saving lives is our priority, in fact, it’s our civic responsibility,” said Ocean City mayor Rick Meehan.
Most of these restrictions are in place through the end of the month – but they could extend longer.
Peak season for these beach towns begins Memorial Day, so this is an important time of year for property owners to prepare their homes for the onslaught of summer visitors.