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February Town Board Meeting
Five roads to get repairs, Officers awarded
February 9, 2023

efore February’s Town Board meeting, there was an appreciation breakfast for Officers Nic Blayney and Bill Wichrowski, who were receiving Advanced Certificates in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

Fourteen members of the public, all of the Public Works Department, and all Commissioners and the Mayor were present at the appreciation breakfast and at the beginning of the meeting.

town hall signIn attendance were Mayor Sally Belangia, Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe, as were Town Manager Diane Miller and Deputy Finance Officer Tammy Cox.

During the meeting, Commissioners approved a paving bid from Barnhill Construction, presented both officers with Advanced Certificates from the North Carolina Department of Justice, and closed the unused Hutson Street.

Commissioners review the documents to close Hutson Street.
Paving, Drainage, and Finding the Funds
Fix the ‘worst road in Oriental’ Keith Smith of S. Water Street spoke during the public comment period. He explained his road was crumbling, had one of the largest potholes in town, had challenging drainage issues, and held water during even lighter rains. It has been deteriorating for several years, and Smith had been complaining about since before Hurricane Florence.

Smith explained the history of the promised repairs beginning from 2017 and how they had been waylaid by hurricanes, funding, and a road condition report that did not take into account or drainage issues. He noted there had been discussions of adding curb and gutters to road, as well as mention of getting it paved at the same time as South Avenue or the Whittaker Point Restoration.

“We’ve got a list right now of roads to do right now, and it’s not on the list. And I think anybody would seriously have a very difficult time claiming it’s not the worst road in Oriental.”

Resident Keith Smith during the public comment period, asking for his road to be fixed.

“I don’t think there’s anything nefarious as to why it hasn’t happened; it just hasn’t happened,” he said. He asked Commissioners to please get his road fixed before considering less damaged ones.

Smith promised to show up at every meeting until then, saying, “you will see me every month for the rest of your lives until it’s done.”

Infrastructure Funding: what’s there & what’s needed
Town Manager Diane Miller explained that Oriental has roughly 13 miles of road to maintain and repair. Those roads are subject to flooding and water intrusion in ways that neighboring towns (like Bayboro) do not experience, she said. The water causes a shorter life span, especially if the road has been dug up to repair or replace utilities.

In Oriental, “the water goes under the substrate, washes it out, and causes road issues,” said Miller. The result is cracking and ‘alligatoring’ of the roadway.

To help with infrastructure maintenance and repairs, the town (like other small municipalities) receives an annual disbursement from the state’s Powell Fund. Oriental received their annual disbursement (an amount that changes yearly based on an algorithm using population and miles of roads) for 2022 in two drops of $21,066.97.

Over the last twenty years, the Town has saved approximately $309k in Powell Funds for infrastructure repairs. (A chart showing twenty years of Powell Bill funds received by the town is in the links below.)

However the cost, per mile, of a full depth road repair is around half a million dollars, said Town Manager Miller.

In an attempt to secure more funds, Miller, along with Commissioners Frank Roe and Allen Price attended a Legislative Breakfast Meeting with Sate Senator Norman Sanderson. (State Representative Keith Kidwell was invited, but not in attendance.) Miller and the Commissioners spoke with Senator Sanderson about the funding issue. They also delivered him a packet with all the information about the state of the Town’s roads, and what has been done so far.

Jim Kellenberger explains how cracking (left) and alligatoring (right) happen.

Sanderson said there were funds to be had for such projects. Miller explained to Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting that in 2022, $325 million was given to municipalities for infrastructure – with $92 million earmarked for specific municipalities. However, she said, there is no guarantee that Oriental will get any of those funds or, if they do, when the money may come in.

If all funds from the Powell Bill are wiped out, then future road repairs – for matching grants or emergency repairs – will have to come out of the General Fund. That fund is usually reserved for Hurricane cleanup and repairs – as with Hurricane Florence. (The General Fund currently has around $750k.) Though Town was eventually reimbursed for damages and repairs by FEMA, it had to front the money initially using the General Fund, and then file reimbursement claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those claims do not pay out immediately, but often stretch into the next several years.

Most other towns, with the exception of larger cities like Raleigh and Charlotte, are in the same boat: they have more repair issues than funds to pay for them.

Commissioner Frank Roe suggested resident call, email, and / or write to Senator Sanderson and Representative Kidwell voicing the town’s needs for more infrastructure funding.

The Current Bid: Partial repairs on five roads
In the meantime, the Town has solicited bids for partial repairs to five roads: milling, paving and dressing up shoulders on sections of Windward Drive, Gilgo Road, Ragan Road, and Neuse Drive. There are also two small patches at Dolphin Point where road cuts were made for culvert / electrical line replacements.

Barnhill Contracting was the only bidder. Their estimate came in at $333,950, approximately $24,000 more than is in the Powell Fund Reserves.

Commissioners discussed holding off awarding the bid. There might be money from the state or the possibility of a matching grant. Both ideas were shot down: a response to the bid is due February 13 and prices can (and are likely to) increase after town rejects it. Money from the state or matching grants is not guaranteed, and there’s no timeline for disbursement if funds are awarded.

Commissioner Sandy Winfrey listens to Jim Kellenberger discuss road repairs.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to accept the bid, and will take the overage from the General Fund if and when needed. They added a contingency allowing Town Manager Miller leeway to pay for the project if it were to go over budget (within 10% of the full amount), without consulting the Board.

Miller reported what may be some good news: the town has contracted with Barnhill for projects before (during Hurricane Florence and the Whittaker Point Restoration) and they’ve come in under budget both times.

Officer Nic Blayney stands in front of the crowd as Mayor Belangia reads out his award letter from the Department of Justice.
Oriental Police Officers Receive State Awards
Officers Nic Blayney and Bill Wichrowski both applied, completed training for, and received the Law Enforcement Officer’s Advanced Certificate and the Criminal Justice Officer’s Advanced Certificate from The North Carolina Criminal Justice Department. These certificates qualify them to be Chief of Police anywhere in the state of North Carolina.

The state offers Professional Certificate Programs in both Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, at Intermediate and Advanced levels. Certificates are granted based on a computation of education level, hours of training, and experience as a full-time, sworn officer. Candidates must also be recommended for the award by an agency head or training coordinator.

Officer Bill Wichrowski receives his framed certificate from Town Manager Diane Miller and Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox.

“We are fortunate to have this pair,” said Town Manager Miller. The officers’ strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, she continued, “they work together so well, like puzzle pieces.”

Both officers received a framed and signed certificate from the Department of Justice.

Pamlico Library Bringing Book / Tech Mobile to Oriental
Pamlico County Library Branch Manager Sidney Phibbons and Outreach Coordinator Victoria Hungerford spoke to Commissioners about bringing the Book / Tech Mobile to Oriental on the first Friday of every month.

Their first meeting will be March 3rd at Lou Mac Park. After, they will be at Town Hall, unless there is a large function already booked for the space.

The Book / Tech Mobile brings out books, but also wifi hotspots and laptops that can be checked out by patrons. They also offer free technology training and help during their time in town.

Victoria Hungerford hands a flyer advertising the Book / Tech Mobile to Commissioners.

Commissioner Charlie Overcash asked about an update on the new library building going up at the Old Hardee’s restaurant on Highway 55 in Bayboro. Phibbons said they were “finalizing plans, but still need a lot of money.” She mentioned there would be upcoming fundraisers to help. “With those funds coming, hopefully – optimistic perspective is it should be done in a year, maybe two.” She said they should see a ground-breaking sometime this year.

Commissioners approved the use of Town Hall and the parks for the Book / Tech Mobile.

Public Hearings: A Road Closed & A Document for Review
Hutson Street Officially closed Hutson Street runs along Broad Street, and was once the intended end of Town Road. Hutson was never actually used for traffic and became a wooded lot. It was also never properly (legally) closed by the Town.

Commissioners remedied that at their February meeting, formally closing the parcel of land and deeding the split property equally to the adjacent property owners: Marthila Fulcher and an undetermined lot owner.

Hutson Street was officially closed by Commissioners at their February meeting.

Public Hearing Set for CAMA Land Use Plan The Planning Board has been working on updating and clarifying the CAMA Land Use Plan for submission to the state. This is a foundational and living document that is one of two sources the Town references when requesting grants or funds.

Pamlico is one of 20 coastal North Carolina counties required to have this plan, showing how the coastal areas are being managed in accordance with the Coastal Resource Commission.

Oriental’s CAMA Land Use Plan contains photos, maps, charts and explanations about the Town’s goals, assets, and concerns.

Commissioners have set a public hearing to review it at their March 7 monthly meeting.

Budget Amendments: The Net House and AEDs
Commissioners reviewed and approved two budget amendments: one for the Net House and one for funds received from the North Carolina Community Foundation.

Net House
The reconstruction of the Net House, a small structure near the public restrooms and free dock #2 on Oriental’s harbor, had been budgeted around $63,000. The final total is closer to $73,000.

Commissioner Sandy Winfrey said the only structural thing left to finish on the building was the cupola. New cameras have been installed there and at the public bathrooms nearby. Harbor Waterfronts Chair Jim Blackerby said they are planning a soft opening for the Net House in March, though they don’t have a set date. Volunteers are needed to help with painting, cleaning, and planting before then.

New AEDs
Oriental received a grant from the North Carolina Community Foundation for $11,046 towards the purchase of three new AEDs, two cabinets to hold them, and extra pads for the devices. They will be installed at The Old Theater, Barcos, and the building housing the Oriental Deli. Remaining funds will go towards training staff how to use the devices.

The Bean, Brantley’s Village Restaurant, The Silos, M&M’s Café, and The Toucan Grill all currently have AEDs installed. The units are regularly inspected by the Fire Chief.

Manager’s Report
• The annual audit is nearly complete. Commissioners asked how much the town put back into the General Fund this year. Miller said Commissioners put out more funds than came back in this year. “General Fund is down $20k, Water Fund is down $17, I think. But water fund on paper, in the audit, includes depreciation. It was solvent cash-wise, but …. it shows a paper loss.” Miller says that is ultimately ok – the Board spent over $100k from the General Fund on repairs and maintenance during the year; all but $20k of what was spent was recouped. The auditor will present to the Board in March.
• Harbor Waterfronts is working with CAMA to relocate nesting Ospreys to the Whittaker Point Restoration site. It is hoped it will encourage more birds to nest in that area.
• Oriental filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recoup funds spent preparing for Hurricane Ian in 2022. Miller says the funds, just under $20,000, are expected shortly.

Committee Reports
Tourism Board Committee Chair Marsha Paplham reported the board has determined a format for new tourism brochures, and are checking into pricing for those and the new visitor’s cards to be placed around town. They’ve also arranged for ads in Our State Magazine highlighting The Oriental Boat Show and CycleNC, both in April.

Paplham said her board had made “the unanimous decision that the map on the Town’s website is to be used for getting around,” and not to use it to list the town’s AirBNBs. If all lodgings including the overnight rentals are on the map, she said, “it will render it unusable.” She pointed out there was a Lodging Section on the Town’s site and it should be used for that purpose.

Saturday, February 11 is the first meeting for the Croaker Festival and volunteers are needed. They meet for breakfast at 8:30a at Brantley’s.

Parks & Recreation Board Committee Chair Bonnie Crosser said her board is making the transition from restoration and maintenance to future growth. They are asking for volunteers with grant writing experience to assist them.

The board is also gearing up to help out CycleNC with welcoming cyclists and the CycleNC information booth.

Harbor Waterfronts Committee Committee Chair Jim Blackerby commented on the potential Osprey relocation. He has been in contact with CAMA and with a construction crew to do the work. The plan, if it happens, is to move the nesting box, as is, to the new location. They’re hoping it does not have to be reconstructed. A homeowner, who requested the initial relocation of the birds, will pay for the move.

Blackerby’s board has also been in talks about how to restore the shoreline at the kayaking and small boat launch areas at the Wildlife Ramp. Blackerby says the shoreline in these areas (and also under the pier) is degrading due to erosion. The board is considering another living shoreline for the restoration.

Planning Board Committee Chair Julie Rahm reports her board had completed edits and updates to the CAMA Land Use Plan, though there will be a few minor corrections at the next meeting. The board will then begin work on the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Commissioner Comments
Commissioner David White reports a sunken boat at a marina across from Zimmerman Marine, a boatyard on Link Lane and along Whittaker Creek. He said there was an incident about a month ago “where there was a big diesel spill. And the owner of that marina said it was from a person transferring diesel cans into his boat.”

Diesel fuel has been coming into the boatyards. Workers for Zimmerman Marine had traced the leak back to the sunken vessel. White said the boat has since been leaking diesel fuel “and blowing a plume down the creeks. When the wind shifts to the northwest, it blows it out.”

The National Response Center and the US Coast Guard both showed up to take pictures, samples, and file reports, said Manager Miller. Otherwise, she said, nothing substantial has been done to deal with the spill. The town has no jurisdiction over the water and cannot remove the vessel.

If the problem persists, they will have to speak with the Coast Guard again. They can come out and pump out the tanks, but they cannot remove the sunken vessel – that is up to the boat owner, the marina owner, and the National Response Center.

Though Commissioner White did not name the marina, his description could only mean one thing: it is most likely Whittaker Creek Marina, owned by Knute Bysheim. Whittaker Creek Marina has fallen into disrepair. There have been (and still are) several sunken boats in Whittaker Creek Marina slips. Many of its docks were never repaired after Hurricane Florence, leaving uneven and hazardous walkways.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, March 7 at 8a. The Board Retreat will be Friday, March 3 at 8a. Budget retreats often run into mid afternoon. Town Hall will be closed all day Monday, February 13.

Related Information
February Agenda
Police Officer Awards
January Meeting Minutes
Hutson Street Road Closing
Budget Amendment for Net House and North Carolina Community Foundation
Draft CAMA Land Use Plan
Craven – Pamlico Library Book / Tech Mobile MOU
BikeMS request
Paving Bid Request
Police Report
Manager’s Report
20 Years of Powell Funds

Story & photos by Allison DeWeese.

Posted Thursday February 9, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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