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Swift progress: Volunteers standing up Habitat home

A lot of good can happen in a week’s time.

Just ask Jane Elfring, vice president of the Elizabeth City Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

A week ago, the only thing finished at Habitat’s newest home construction site in the 900 block of Fifth Street was the foundation, Elfring said.

Momentum took a big swing upward later in the day when a tractor-trailer arrived with a load of pre-assembled exterior and interior walls and pre-assembled trusses, which support the roof.

“By Friday afternoon, all the exterior walls were placed,” Elfring said, adding that on Monday the interior walls were raised.

Then by Thursday morning, several volunteers, including members of the Elizabeth City Fire Department, were on site to help install the house’s trusses.

One of those volunteers was Todd Winslow, a retired city firefighter who is now a construction contractor. Winslow was operating the telescopic forklift used to hoist the roof trusses up over the home and into place.

Workers began installing the trusses shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday and hoped to have all 24 mounted by noon, according to Elfring. When the home is completed, it will be like other Habitat constructed homes: practical and affordable. Habitat built homes don’t come with a lot of “bells and whistles,” Elfring said.

“They are simple, decent, affordable housing,” she said.

The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house is about 1,200 square feet and is being built between two occupied Habitat homes in the 900 block of Fifth Street.

One feature of the house Elfring is proud of is how energy efficient it will be. For example, the walls will have six inches of space between the interior and exterior sides. That means much more room for insulation than average homes, where the width between walls is about 3½ inches, she said.

The home will have energy-efficient appliances and using pre-assembled materials helped to reduce construction waste, according to Elfring.

“It really is a ‘green’ building,” she said.

When it’s finished, the house will be home to a single mother and her family who are overcoming the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Elfring, the woman was working two jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic caught fire in March. The woman lost both jobs and went weeks without work until landing two new jobs in early June.

At the time the woman applied for a Habitat house, her family was living in a mobile home.

“This is a huge step up for them,” Elfring said, of the family’s new home.

On Thursday, the woman was at work, but her two teenage children were at the Habitat construction site helping out. Families of Habitat for Humanity homes are required to put in a certain amount of work, or sweat equity, during their home’s construction.

It will be a few more months before the house is ready for the family to move in, according to Elfring. In the meantime, Habitat could always use more volunteers to assist at building sites, she said.

Habitat for Humanity was not immune to the revenue-slashing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elfring explained that when homeowners lost their jobs they couldn’t pay their mortgages, which Habitat relies in part to fund future projects.

Additionally, the local Habitat chapter’s Sale Store at 306 Mill Street had to close for two months before finally reopening in June. Donations from area businesses help make it possible for Habitat to build homes, such as the Fifth Street location.

For information on how to donate or to volunteer, visit Habitat For Humanity online at https://echabitat6.wixsite.com/ecityhabitat or call the office at 252-331-2233.


Local
Music on Green canceled due to virus

There are two chances that the annual North Carolina Potato Festival will be held this year.

Slim and none.

That’s what members of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. were told Thursday at the group’s first meeting since February. They were also advised that the annual Music on the Green at Mariners’ Wharf concert series scheduled to begin next month has been canceled.

Both events, along with many others in the city, are casualties of the coronavirus pandemic that hit in March and still continues to affect the country.

The Potato Festival in downtown Elizabeth City was first scheduled for May 15-17 but that date was postponed when officials from Elizabeth City and Pasquotank and Camden counties declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19. That state of emergency is still in effect.

Potato Festival organizers said in May that they hoped to hold the event in October but that is very much now in doubt. North Carolina is still in Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan, which limits outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people, and no one knows when the state will enter Phase 3 or what that would look like.

“We had hoped that this would pass quickly and we might have been able to pull off something in the fall,” said Tim Williams, who is one of the festival’s organizers and an ECDI board member “But that has become slim to none at this point.”

Williams told ECDI that Potato Festival organizers “really hadn’t expended” any money for the event and that the group is looking ahead to 2021.

“What sponsorship money we had collected on that (for 2020), the sponsors have been generous enough to tell us to just hold it,” Williams said. “We will, hopefully, use it towards next year’s festival.”

Music on the Green is an annual outdoor event that features area bands entertaining music-loving crowds for eight consecutive Tuesdays on the lawn at the waterfront.

Music on the Green not only celebrates talented local musicians and provides something for visitors and locals to do on a week night, but it also promotes downtown Elizabeth City businesses. The 2020 series was scheduled to begin Aug. 4 and end Sept. 29.

“Since we are in Phase 2 for another three weeks, we are going to have to cancel that as well,” said ECDI Director Deborah Malenfant.

COVID-19 also forced the cancellation of the city’s annual Independence Day event on July 4 that regularly is attended by around 3,000 people, the TarWheel Cycling event and the inaugural Coast Guard Half Marathon and the Guardians of the Atlantic 5K race, among other events.

The Coast Guard race was scheduled to take place Sept. 19 but the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Tourism Development Authority decided in May to postpone the event until next year.


Local
Hertford council OKs painting BLM on town street

HERTFORD — The town of Hertford this week became the first community in the region to approve the painting of the words “Black Lives Matter” on a town street. The town also became the first to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for municipal employees.

Both decisions came during a marathon Hertford Town Council meeting held Monday at the Community Center that lasted until 3 a.m. the following morning.

Councilors approved by 5-0 votes making June 19th a town holiday and the painting of “BLM” on King Street between Stokes Avenue and Hyde Park Street.

Council also voted 4-1 to draft a letter to Perquimans County formally requesting removal of the Confederate monument from the Perquimans Courthouse grounds. Council will likely vote on the letter’s substance at its meeting in August.

Councilors also voted 3-2 to sell the town-owned Chevy Tahoe, a vehicle councilors purchased for their travel. The vehicle had been criticized by town residents who accused Councilor Quentin Jackson of using it as his personal vehicle when he previously served as the council’s mayor pro tem.

Despite those agreements, councilors verbally sparred over other matters.

During discussion of a proposal to spend $51,000 in town funds on a master plan for waterfront development, Jackson and Councilor Frank Norman criticized the idea, saying the money should be spent on other needs. They also claimed they had been left out of the decision-making that went into the town’s application for a $145,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to help develop the plan.

Jimmy Rodgers of USDA’s Rural Development Office made a presentation on the grant at Monday’s meeting. According to the town’s application, the grant will be used to prepare a master plan for expanding and improving areas of Hertford, including the town’s northern riverfront, downtown, Church Street, and the edges of U.S. Highway 17. The grant will also be used to conduct public input sessions on the master plan.

According to the grant application, the plan is critical to the success of revitalization efforts in Hertford because community support and community benefit, including job creation, must be integrated into the overall strategy.

Council approved a budget amendment allocating $51,000 in matching funds for the project. But not before Jackson and Norman raised a number of objections.

Jackson said Town Council should be more interested in improving King Street Park instead of the waterfront.

Norman claimed that money initially pledged to King Street Park was instead being used to underwrite waterfront development planning.

Both councilmen also claimed they had been left out of the grant-writing process for the USDA grant.

Councilor Ashley Hodges, council’s mayor pro tem, responded that Jackson and Norman both had ample notice and opportunity to become engaged in the project, but chose not to do so. He defended the grant application, saying plans to develop the waterfront would be an economic boost that would pay dividends to all Hertford citizens.

Jackson also criticized Hodges for penning an editorial column recently published in The Perquimans Weekly that took issue with Jackson’s and Norman’s conduct. Hodges had written the column in response to a group calling itself U-MAD, or Uptown-Making a Difference, one of whose members, Lawrence Jackson, had authored a column critical of the town’s government.

A group critical of Jackson and Norman, Friends for the Best of Hertford, has started a petition drive asking the councilors to change their conduct, and to resign if it doesn’t. Sara Winslow presented the petition to council Monday night. She said it contained the signatures of 347 citizens.

Jackson denounced the petition and said he represents thousands of people living in Hertford who support him.


Local
Over 100 have applied for county small biz grants

More than 100 small businesses have applied for Pasquotank County’s COVID-19 Small Business Grant program and officials are looking at ways to help around 10 of them meet one of the program’s key criteria.

The Pasquotank Board of Commissioners started the grant program when they unanimously voted last month to spend $250,000 — more than a quarter — of the $898,000 the county received in federal COVID-19 relief money to support small businesses affected financially by the pandemic.

Under the program’s rules, eligible small businesses could receive a grant of up to $2,500 to help make up some of the revenue they’ve lost during the pandemic, which is now in its fourth month.

The county last week extended the application deadline for the program to Friday.

One of the requirements for receiving a grant is having a “brick and mortar” presence in the county and officials are exploring ways to help small business owners that don’t meet that requirement.

Elizabeth City-Pasquo-tank County Economic Development Commission Director Christian Lockamy told commissioners Monday that businesses that don’t have a brick and mortar presence could include janitorial and landscaping services, small contractors and barbers, hair stylists and nail technicians that rent space inside an eligible business.

“There are a lot of folks like that,” said Lockamy, who is administering the grant program for the county. “They do business all throughout the county and they have the valid documentation, business licenses. They meet everything (grant guidelines) except the brick and mortar’’ requirement.

Lockamy said all applications will be evaluated under the guidelines established when the program was created. However, those rules could be later modified to accommodate small businesses that don’t have a brick and mortar presence but meet other grant program criteria.

“We are going to come back and see if there is anything we can do to make it work,” Lockamy said. “In no way, shape or form are we saying no, but we are going to see what we can do.’’

Of the 102 applications received as of Monday, 55 have completed the process and need no further documentation. Almost 30 applicants need to submit multiple documents before Friday’s deadline and several more have to apply or update a city business license.

“In most cases, I don’t see an issue with them being able to submit those documents,” Lockamy said. “We should be able to get them across the goal-line. We are going to have a good number of qualified applicants.”

Eighty-four of the applicants do business in Elizabeth City while 18 operate in the county. Lockamy said there has been “significant” minority participation in the program.

A three-person committee will review the applications and award the grants with the county hoping to cut checks in early August. Angie Wills, Matthew Fowler and Will Thompson are the panel’s three members.


Public_info
ARHS: 2nd COVID-19 death reported in Camden; region's cases surpass 800

Albemarle Regional Health Services reported a second COVID-19 related death in Camden County on Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases in the health department’s eight-county region surpassed 800.

ARHS said the person was over age 65 and died from complications from the respiratory disease. The person’s death was the second in the eight-county region this week and the 38th overall.

According to ARHS data, the region’s virus cases rose to 801. That’s an increase of roughly 100 cases since July 9. Previously, it was taking about two weeks for the region to average about 100 new cases.

The region’s number of active cases also rose to 80 on Thursday, an increase of about 20 from earlier in the week. Still, that’s only about 10 percent of all cases.

More than 690 of those who’ve contracted COVID-19 in the region — more than 86 percent — have recovered from it, ARHS’ data show. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says someone is presumed to have recovered from COVID-19 within 14 days if they didn’t require hospitalization and within 28 days if they did.

An ARHS spokeswoman said the health department “has seen an increase in new cases” in recent weeks.

However, Amy Underhill, ARHS’ Healthy Communities coordinator, also noted the region’s active case count “has remained relatively stable” since mid to late June.

With “expanded testing capacity through testing events and clinics across the region and ... community spread of the virus we expect to continue seeing cases potentially increase,” she said.

The increase in cases also buttresses ARHS’ message that all residents need to be following safety precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“This activity tells us that we all need to continue to take the steps necessary to slow the spread of the virus, focusing on the 3Ws — wearing a cloth face covering, waiting 6 feet apart, and washing your hands often,” she said.

Most counties in ARHS’ region reported additional cases on Thursday. Pasquotank is now reporting 262 cases, 17 of which are active. Currituck is reporting 35 cases, 14 of which are active. Camden is reporting 43 cases, 13 of which are active. Hertford County, which is reporting 184 cases, 10 of which are active. No other area county had more than eight active cases.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 93,426, an increase of more than 2,100 since Wednesday. The number of deaths from the virus rose to 1,588.

The number of people hospitalized on Thursday was 1,134, a decrease of eight from Wednesday.

The number of completed COVID-19 tests rose by more than 25,000 on Thursday to 1.3 million. The percentage of positive tests statewide was 9 percent. Percentages of positive tests for the ARHS region were not available.