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NC legislature passes parks speed-limit bill

North Carolina legislators on Friday passed a measure that lets the state environment secretary grant exceptions to a 25 mph speed limit in state parks.

The move appears to clear the way for sports-car rallies that have been proposed for two parks.

The legislation had surfaced in June after two groups of sports-car buffs had asked to hold “hill climbs” at Pilot Mountain State Park, 80 miles northeast of Charlotte. It reappeared Friday, in a different bill, as legislators moved toward an end of the session.

One of those groups, the Vintage Triumph Register, has planned a Sept. 11 event, essentially renting the park for a day. The group moved the climb to another location after an Observer article about it appeared. Its application has expired, the state parks division said.

A second group, the Sports Car Club of America, has said it would like to have annual hill climbs at Pilot Mountain and at Chimney Rock State Park. The SCCA’s regional director couldn’t be reached Friday.

Passage of the speed-limit exemption, which was added to a regulatory reform bill, would allow such events. Both the N.C. Senate and the House approved the bill Friday, sending it to Gov. Pat McCrory.

No applications for such uses of either park are before the parks division, spokesman Charlie Peek said.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources had signaled it would let the Triumph group use the Pilot Mountain park for $10,000 if the speed-limit legislation passed. The department said it would allow limited private use of parks if it helped local economies.

Parks officials, though, had debated internally for months what they called unprecedented private use of a state park. The Sierra Club has argued that shutting out the public to such an extent represented a policy change that should be aired publicly.

Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, has said she was asked to introduce the speed-limit provision by Ed and Charlie Shelton. The Sheltons founded Shelton Vineyards, host of the Triumph group’s national convention, and donated thousands of dollars to McCrory’s 2012 campaign.

Ed Shelton has strongly denied he tried to exert political influence, saying he acted on behalf of the sports-car group and to bring visitors to the area.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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