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  • Allen Turner

Fair Bluff ’s downtown could become a park as a result of $6 million agreement with state

The Fair Bluff Board of Commissioners has authorized Mayor Billy Hammond to sign an agreement with the State of North Carolina for a $6 million disaster recovery package that could eventually result in the conversion of the downtown business district into a park and the establishment of a new business district elsewhere in the town limits.

Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, was present and smiled broadly as Hammond signed the agreement. Jones, along with Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, and Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, had been instrumental in getting the $6 million for Fair Bluff appropriated by the legislature.

Rep. Brenden Jones, left, addresses the Fair Bluff Board of Commissioners and staff.

Rep. Brenden Jones, left, addresses the Fair Bluff Board of Commissioners and staff Tuesday night.

Fair Bluff was devastated after floods following Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. While some state-funded planning went into possible redevelopment of the business district after Matthew, leaders agreed after the second flood two years later that the idea simply isn’t viable.

Although no formal votes have been taken, Town Planner Al Leonard said the idea of repurposing the existing business district into a park and establishing a new business district outside the floodplain“ just sort of evolved.”

Town officials prepared a “scope of work” document to submit to the state outlining $1.6 million for establishment of a new business district, $1.5 million to acquire and develop existing downtown properties to be developed as a park, $500,000 for removal of hazardous materials from downtown buildings and for subsequent demolition of those buildings, another $500,000 for professional services to implement the projects, $250,000 for canal dredging, $800,000 in flood-related street repairs, $600,000 in repairs and renovations to the town’s water and sewer system and $250,000 for public works and police vehicles.

Before the town can embark on any demolition downtown, it must first acquire the property because public funds can’t be spent on private properties. Officials are hopeful that most, if not all, owners will give their now-essentially useless properties to the town so that the grant funds can be used for hazardous material removal and building demolition.

Additionally, officials hope that the $1.5 million for park development can be used as matching funds for a future grant from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. No site for a new business district has been identified. “We’re looking as several possibilities,” Leonard said.

No time frames have been established for any of the proposals. Fair Bluff is not getting a $6 million check from the state. Instead, the money will be reimbursed as the town makes the expenditures. Commissioner Randy Britt voiced mixed feelings after the meeting. “Emotionally, it’s a very sad moment,” he said. “I grew up in the hardware store (B.H. Small Company) and I’m very sad at the thought of the downtown being torn down, but I’m convinced that it’s a move in the right direction. There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of things have to happen, but I hope I live long enough to see them happen. If not, I hope it turns out well after I’m gone.”

Jones had some good disaster recovery news for commissioners. He said he sits on a legislative conference committee that is considering appropriating more than $120 million in additional disaster recovery relief and would be attending a session of that committee the next day. “We hope be able to make some announcements in the coming days,” he said.

Commissioners held a public hearing on a revised flood damage ordinance and new flood insurance rate maps. They unanimously adopted the amended ordinance and maps, something that had to happen before Dec. 6 if property owners are to be eligible to purchase federal flood insurance.

Commissioners also received a monthly financial report showing that, as of Sept. 30, the town’s general fund had expenses that were $128,701 more than revenue for July, August and September. The water and sewer fund also lost money, but not as much as the general fund. Water and sewer expenses exceeded income by $17,959.

In other business, commissioners are expected to approve an amendment to an engineering agreement with the Adams Company for addition work involved in enlarging the water lines necessary to get adequate fire protection to a new apartment complex on Rough and Ready Road.

The state is paying for the larger capacity lines. The board also approved Christmas bonuses equaling 10 percent of one month’s salary for town employees and changed the location of their December monthly meeting from the Town Hall to the Family Life Center at Fair Bluff Baptist Church, where they will hold their annual town Christmas dinner after the meeting.

That meeting will be underway with the swearing in of newly elected board members Kathy Horne Ashley and Ralph McCoy. Commissioners Carl Meares, who lost his bid for re-election, and Commissioner Jack Meares, who did not run for reelection, will come off the board at that time.

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