Confrontation over Duck beach access leads to trespassing arrest

Kari Pugh photo

A local man who has long crusaded against private beach access points in Duck sparked a social media outcry Wednesday after he was arrested following a confrontation with property owners.

Bob Hovey, owner of Duck Village Outfitters, faces a misdemeanor trespassing charge after two people, both using profanity, denied him access at the Sea Breeze Drive walkway to the beach. Hovey videotaped that confrontation, and another a few days prior. He posted the videos on Facebook, and they quickly went viral.

“Yesterday I believe I became the first person in the history of Duck to get arrested for going to the beach,” Hovey wrote on Facebook Thursday morning. “I recorded two separate instances where I was harassed and on the later incident arrested and taken to jail.”

In a statement, the Town of Duck confirmed Hovey’s arrest, saying the beach access in question is privately owned and maintained by the Sand Dollar Shores Homeowners Association.

“The charge and arrest were the culmination of a long-standing dispute between Mr. Hovey and the property owners of the Sand Dollar Shores subdivision,” the statement said. “After repeated attempts by the Town of Duck Police Department to pursue a peaceful resolution, officers on the scene today acted to diffuse a situation that was escalating.”

The towns of Duck and Southern Shores have no public beach access points, all are privately owned and maintained. Hovey has for years rallied against the legality of those private accesses, saying the Sand Dollar Shores access in particular has a dedicated public easement.

He took his case to court in 2017 but Hovey says “the judge dismissed the case but did not make a determination on the validity of the public accesses for or against.” Hovey said he didn’t have the financial means to continue to fight the town in court. He has now launched a Facebook fundraiser to bring the case again. The fundraiser had raised more than $1,600 on Thursday morning.

In its statement about Hovey’s arrest, the Town of Duck reiterated that all town beaches are public. But access to those beaches is not.

“To be clear, in accordance with the North Carolina public trust and state statutes, the beaches in Duck are public. The Town of Duck does not restrict an individual’s use of the public beach, but it does not own or maintain any beach access locations in the town,” the statement said. “Because the accesses are privately owned and maintained, the Town cannot grant permission for their use and unauthorized use could be deemed trespass as it would with any other private property.

“The Town does not monitor any beach access locations with the intent to discern between authorized and unauthorized users of a private beach access. The Town will respond to complaints of use by unauthorized individuals and these are handled in conformity with other simple trespass complaints.”

  • Click here to read the town’s full statement

Regardless of who might be on the right side of the law in the fight, Hovey’s videos received hundreds of messages of support on Facebook and prompted plans for a “public access walk” next week at the Sea Breeze access. On Thursday morning, a Facebook event page for the walk had received more than 600 people who said they were going, or interested. The event page, however, had been deleted by 10 a.m.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.