Perquimans County voters will begin casting ballots for the Nov. 8 election when early voting begins Oct. 20.
The only contested local race on the Nov. 8 general election ballot is that for three open seats on the Perquimans Board of Commissioners. Six candidates are on the ballot: Democratic incumbent Fondella Leigh and Republican incumbent Wallace Nelson; Democrats Keith Nowell and Quentin Jackson; Republican James Ward; and unaffiliated voter Tim Corprew.
While three seats are open, Perquimans voters can only vote for one candidate under the county’s “single-shot” voting system.
To help provide voters a little more information about the candidates’ positions on key issues, The Perquimans Weekly recently reached out to all six candidates and asked a series of questions. One question concerns the county’s Marine Industrial Park, for which the county has received roughly $7.5 million in state grants, state budget appropriations and Golden LEAF funding.
At a candidates forum earlier this year, Corprew, a business owner, questioned the county’s continued investment in the Marine Industrial Park, calling it a “mistake” and a “foolish expenditure.” The Perquimans Weekly wanted to find out other candidates’ thoughts about the Marine Industrial Park. All candidates except Jackson responded by the newspaper’s deadline.
The Perquimans Weekly: Do you support the Marine Industrial Park project, including the deep-water basin? Why or why not? Does the fact that the county has received grant money to cover the costs make any difference?
Leigh: “Yes, I support the Marine Industrial Park project, including the deep-water basin. I am in support of the project because of job creation, capitalizing on the water surrounding our county and it’s an opportunity for renewed economic growth. The fact that grant money is provided for any project in the County is always a positive outlook, so yes receiving the grant money does make a tremendous difference.”
Nelson: “The Perquimans Marine Industrial Park concept began when the NC Marine Industrial Authority ran out of space at its Wanchese location. Numerous sites along the coast of North Carolina were studied as potential second locations and out of all the locations studied, Perquimans was determined to be the best choice.
“The county donated 71 acres for the Marine Park for an inland basin. After being appointed by the governor to the Marine Authority and working with the Department of Commerce, it became clear it was in the best interest to have the authority deed the land back to the county. This was done to put the county in a better position to secure grants for this project.
“In the past five years, working with the Department of Commerce and our legislators, the county has been successful securing $9 million in grants for Phase 1 of the inland basin, requiring no tax dollars from Perquimans County. Construction on the basin will begin in the coming months with the goal of attracting marine companies and jobs to Perquimans County. The fact this facility will become a reality has already resulted in a number of inquiries for potential marine-related businesses. This project is a great opportunity for our whole region as well as our local economy.”
Nowell: “Having run a construction company for 30 years, this probably would not have gotten my vote to do this type of project. Now that this is done, if elected I am going to work hard to see that this is a success. Help recruit new businesses with good-paying jobs. Work to expand the tax base without raising property tax. Supporting this project together is essential for positive growth in Perquimans. Also, I am glad the county was able to secure the grants to cover the cost.”
"No, I don’t support the Marine Industrial Park project because I personally think it’s a pipe dream that has a zero percent chance of being successful. It’s going to be a tremendous waste of money and the ruination of a fine piece of waterfront property that could be used for something else that would actually generate revenue for Perquimans County. (Like a boardwalk with shops and restaurants and a small motel and docks where boaters coming up the Perquimans River could actually get gas or diesel).
“Out of all the current commissioners and candidates I’m probably the only one that’s ever had a boat hauled out at an industrial boatyard. I’d also venture a guess that none of the current commissioners have ever seen a boat being hauled out or the process involved, and yet they are willing to commit $6-plus million to try and attract marine based businesses here?
“We (the county) have owned the proposed site for almost 30 years. If it was such a good idea some marine-based business would have already come here on their own dime.
“Additionally, we transferred ownership of the piece of property to the North Carolina Seafood Industrial Park Authority, whose sole purpose is to attract marine-based businesses to locate in these proposed marine industrial parks, and in the 10 years they had it they managed to attract zero interest in the project. So no, I think it’s a foolish expenditure. I don’t care where the money came from.”
Ward: “I believe that the Marine Industrial Park is a good thought to bring jobs to the community, but I do not think it is right for the currently selected spot. It will be an eyesore for our beautiful coastline in our town. I believe it would not benefit Perqumians in the aspect that the former commissioners thought it may by bringing in additional revenue. We do not have a major thriving commercial fishing industry that the Wanchese Marine Industrial Park has, so our local commercial fishermen wouldn’t benefit from it, in my opinion.
“If we are counting on non-locals to support the Marine Industrial Park to work, that would be an enormous risk to take because it is roughly 35 nautical miles off the path of the Intercostal Waterway. It may be beneficial to our county to investigate the possibility of a new location near the southern end of the county, its benefits being: population is minimal; it provides a shorter route for boaters coming in from the Intercoastal Waterway; it will not be in the middle of where families recreation at; and it keeps the coastline attractive in our beautiful town.
“Receiving grant money is a great way for the county to start development, but our county leadership must be considerate of all regulations required by the state when accepting the grant money. With that being said, I believe that the current location should be considered for developing a boardwalk shopping center, retail stores, boutiques, restaurants, and docks if the county was to change locations for the Marine Industrial Park.
“This type of shopping experience could help attract more tourist revenue to our county, similar to towns like Edenton and little Washington. An apartment complex that will provide 100-plus housing units would also be a beneficial consideration for our county, as it could bring more revenue than a not-optimally placed Marine Industrial Park.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show the full, correct answers by candidates Keith Nowell and Tim Corprew to the question. Because of a production error, part of Corprew's answer appeared under Nowell's answer.