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City eyeing grants to aid shipyard project

Cooper Interview

In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper talks during an interview at the Governor's mansion in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, March 25, 2019

Elizabeth City officials are putting together another offer for the Elizabeth City Shipyard site, though buying it will depend on receiving at least $1 million in state funds.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget for next year has proposed spending $1 million on buying and cleaning up the property, and the city is also seeking two grants worth a combined $450,000 to supplement the state earmark, City Manager Rich Olson told councilors during their finance committee meeting on Thursday.

The city has sought to buy the shipyard, owned by Mary Hadley Griffin, for years, but a deal has been elusive. That's largely been due not only to the property's price tag, but also because of environmental contamination at the site that carries major costs and liabilities.

The $1 million earmarked for the shipyard property’s purchase is among the millions of dollars Cooper’s proposed budget, released earlier this month, would spend in rural communities. Another earmark of area significance is the nearly $15 million Cooper wants to spend on Perquimans County's Marine Industrial Park.

Whether lawmakers will include the money in their budget is to be determined.Olson noted the city and Pasquotank County plan to meet with local lawmakers on March 29 to discuss the shipyard and other priorities.

To supplement the $1 million in Cooper’s budget, Olson told councilors he is also proposing the city apply for $250,000 from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and $200,000 in CAMA, or Coastal Access Management Act, grant funds. The PARTF grant would require a dollar-for-dollar local match, which Olson said the city would mostly cover with the CAMA grant. The CAMA grant would also carry a 10 percent, or $20,000, local match.

The governor's proposed $1 million — if it finds its way into lawmakers’ budget — may not be used toward local matches for other grants, Olson said.

Olson declined to say how much Griffin wants for the shipyard, but said the $1 million would cover the cost of acquisition as well as removal of junk from the site. Receiving the state grants would mean the city would have more money to spend cleaning up and improving the site, he said.

If the city were to win the grants but not get the $1 million Cooper wants to spend, the city would have to turn down the grants, Olson said in a follow-up interview. That’s because the project’s costs would be more than what the city is capable of paying, he said.

City officials have identified the shipyard as a vital property to the waterfront, a conclusion affirmed by an outside consultant who helped develop the city's current waterfront master plan. However, community members have differed on how the property should be used. Some want it converted into a public park; others have suggested it be used for some kind of business development.

Olson told councilors the city is trying to acquire the property while leaving its options open. Cooper's $1 million budget earmark doesn't appear to restrict future uses of the site, but the PARTF and coastal access grants would require the city to own and use the property for public use forever, Olson said.

“I would not be surprised if we designated PARTF in this part of the property, and CAMA in this part of the property, so we would have the option if we wanted to do some type of mixed-use” development, he said.

Councilors tentatively approved seeking both grants at Thursday’s meeting. They're set to hold another vote during Monday's meeting.

Olson said that, separately from buying and cleaning up the site, its redevelopment will require a Brownfield agreement that will help define what environmental work is needed. It's possible that contaminants could be covered with a clay cap, which would be cheaper than digging them up and removing them, he explained.

Even once the site is cleaned up, Olson said it might be suitable for a park, but residences likely could never be built on it.

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