(Please note: While writing this blog, we received notice of three more positive COVID-19 test results in Dare County, all of them linked to Peak Resources, a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Nags Head. We will post a story about DCEM Bulletin No. 17 soon. Thank you.)
Four non-resident Southern Shores homeowners spoke out in public comments at the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday, protesting the March 20 order prohibiting their access to Dare County and/or questioning the prohibition’s continued logic and effect.
The Beacon has learned in informal conversations with Town Council members that, not surprisingly, other non-resident property owners have complained to the Town about the County’s order via email, and we have heard from disgruntled non-resident homeowners, as well.
COVID-19 Bulletin No. 10, which was issued at 6:20 p.m. on March 20, barred non-resident property owners from accessing Dare County as of 10 p.m. that day. See https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/5994/17
The Dare County Control Group has said nothing further to, or about, non-resident property owners since its emergency order, although members of the County’s healthcare community have encouraged people in bulletins and videos to be kind to each other.
The Beacon is aware that the tension and ill will generated by the County’s decision to prohibit non-resident homeowners from accessing their properties during the COVID-19 emergency have been expressed in many social-media forums and in local media. We do not intend to give voice here to various sides and opinions in the debate/argument.
(See yesterday’s Beacon for a report of a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by non-resident Dare County property owners against the County.)
Instead, our intent is to give an overview of important matters that came up at the Town Council’s meeting, and we believe the ban on non-resident property owners, and how the Town Council responded to homeowners disadvantaged by it, is important.
“WRONG AND UNFAIR”
Calling the restriction “very, very unfair, and discriminatory,” Bill Schreiner, who appeared at the meeting by Zoom videoconferencing, said the “travel ban” has “sown a deep division among different members of the tax base of Southern Shores.”
Mr. Schreiner described the Dare County Control Group’s decision that led to Bulletin No. 10 as “driven by fear” and said “it has caused a great deal of unhappiness.”
Mr. Schreiner, whose family has owned properties in Southern Shores since the early 1960s, said he felt like he had been “treated as a second-class citizen.” (Full disclosure: The Schreiners owned a home next door to my family’s 50-year-old beach cottage for decades.)
Mr. Schreiner further criticized the ban—which is principally enforced at the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge checkpoint—for not being “airtight.” He described workers and locals coming and going across the bridge, daily and indiscriminately, without any oversight.
There is no question that a Dare County local who travels to Hampton Roads for any reason could return with a COVID-19 infection as easily as a non-resident property owner who lives in Norfolk could transport one to Dare County.
Mr. Schreiner also cited the presumed community spread of COVID-19 in Dare County as both a failure of the allegedly discriminatory travel ban and as reason to loosen the restriction. He questioned why the County and Town are not imposing/enforcing rules on face masks and physical distancing.
Robert Garver, who said he had “retired and moved to Southern Shores in mid-January,” related in written public comments a compelling story of having left Southern Shores on Tuesday, March 17, “for a short trip out of town” and being “shocked” to learn on the next Saturday morning, when he prepared to return home, that he was “barred from entry.”
He had “no reasonable time to respond,” he said, claiming that Bulletin No. 10 was not distributed by email.
He and his wife, Mr. Garver said, “had planned a stay-healthy-in-place strategy [for the pandemic] long before the town or county announced any actions.” They had purchased supplies and groceries in Southern Shores, to which they intended to return. According to Mr. Garver, he and his wife have suffered a “financial impact, worry, and uncertainty” from their inability to do so.
Ernie Dash, who appeared via Zoom and said he is “hunkered down” in Williamsburg, told the Town Council he would just like the opportunity to “come down for a day and check over [his] property,” which is a second home in Southern Shores.
The Beacon has empathy for all non-resident property owners in Southern Shores and in other Dare County beach towns and would have liked to have heard our Town Council express empathy to the people who submitted public comments.
Non-resident property owners are a big part of our town’s economy, character, welfare, appeal, and sense of community and neighborhood. They are the historical backbone of Southern Shores. Those who reached out to the Town Council deserved a response, even though the entry restriction was imposed by the County, not the Town.
We would say to the Town Council: You don’t have to take sides in order to relate to non-resident homeowners’ anger, distress, anxiety, and other emotions during this unusually stressful and uncertain time. But, please, listen to them and consider their interests, and tell them of your concern.
Only Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey addressed the conflict between residents and non-residents, but she did so in concluding remarks after people had already heard from Mayor Tom Bennett that the Town Council does not customarily respond to public comments.
INTERIM TOWN MANAGER’S REPORT
Otherwise, The Beacon finds only the following items, presented by Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett, of sufficient importance to cover now:
RECYCLING: First, some good news . . . Mr. Haskett has heard from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality that Southern Shores now has the option of having its recyclables transported to a materials recovery facility (a so-called MRF, pronounced murf) in Portsmouth, Va., where they actually will be recycled, not burned.
Currently, Bay Disposal and Recycling is hauling all Outer Banks recycling, including Southern Shores’ curbside recycling, to an incinerator at Wheelabrator, a waste-to-energy facility in Portsmouth, not an MRF.
Recycling & Disposal Solutions (RSD), out of Roanoke, Va., operates the MRF in Portmouth, according to Mr. Haskett, who explained that NCDEQ had hoped to “secure a location in Elizabeth City,” but it was unsuccessful.
See RDS’s website: https://rds-virginia.com/locations/hampton-roads-locations/
RSD’s recycling processing fee is $95 per ton, Mr. Haskett said. The Town would have to pay Bay Disposal’s collection and hauling costs on top of that. The Interim Town Manager is waiting to receive a fee quote from Joshua Smaltz, Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager.
NCDEQ regulators have authorized Southern Shores and other Outer Banks towns to continue to allow their recyclables to be transported to Wheelabrator, despite state laws against disposing of them by incineration. This extension of a regulatory exemption previously given the Outer Banks came “with no given time frame,” Mr. Haskett said.
BEACH NOURISHMENT GRANT MONEY: Mr. Haskett reported that grants of up to $2.5 million are available to N.C. towns for beach nourishment projects through the NCDEQ’s Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund.
The grant money was authorized by the N.C. General Assembly last September for the 2019-2021 fiscal biennium, which runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021. Up to $11.5 million in grants is available to “units of local government” for coastal storm mitigation.
The application deadline for an NCDEQ grant is April 30.
Mr. Haskett mentioned the possibility of the Town requesting grant funding for anticipated “maintenance work in the Pelican Watch area” or for “one of the four options” for beach nourishment that APTIM, the Town’s coastal engineering consultant, has recommended.
“We will seek Council’s guidance at the April 21 budget session as to which, if any project, you prefer,” Mr. Haskett told the Council.
See the March 4, 2020 notice from the NCDEQ that it is accepting grant applications: https://deq.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2020/03/04/deq-accepting-applications-115-million-help-coastal-communities-storm
See North Carolina Session Law 2019-224, aka Senate Bill 429, Part II, sect. 2.1(3)(3) for grant authorization language: https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/Senate/PDF/S429v4.pdf
See Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund Guidelines, FY 2019-20: https://files.nc.gov/ncdeq/Water%20Resources/documents/2019-2020-CSDM-Fund-Guidelines.pdf
FY 2020-2021 BUDGET
Regarding next year’s fiscal-year budget Mr. Haskett told the Council that “work on the proposed budget continues, and all of the departments’ requested expenditures have been added.
“Due to the anticipated loss of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re working on options that would help offset that loss. We will present those options to you and seek guidance on projects to include or not include in the proposed budget at Council’s April 21 budget work session.”
That meeting will take place at 9 a.m. and will be managed by videoconferencing.
A videotape of the Town Council’s April 7 meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JnhfT87RAY&feature=youtu.be.
Mr. Haskett’s report begins around 13 minutes into the tape. Public comments are read or voiced by Zoom participants after his report and end around the 41-minute mark.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/9/20