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Cemetery damages, airport economic impact topics for planning retreat

By Erin Smith

Damages to the Elizabethtown City Cemetery that occurred during hurricane Florence were discussed at the Elizabethtown Planning Retreat along with the economic impact the airport has on the local economy. The meeting was held on Tuesday at the newly completed Elizabethtown Airport Terminal Building.

FEMA projects from Hurricane Florence were a topic of interest at the Elizabethtown Planning Retreat especially the damages experienced at the Elizabethtown City Cemetery. Currently, four options for repairs to the cemetery are being reviewed by the town.

Town Manager Eddie Madden said the options will be presented to FEMA for funding along with the damages to other town facilities. The options being explored by the Elizabethtown Town Council include repairing the cemetery to pre-hurricane Florence conditions and implement solutions to reduce the frequency and severity of soil movement in future significant storms. A third option is to eliminate the risk from soil moving forward which includes two potential options — the first option is to move 275 graves to a new cemetery which would be located on a tract of land owned by the town across the NC 87 Bypass from the Elizabethtown Airport. The other option or 3B includes leaving the graves where they are located and install a 400 foot wall of underground sheet pile along the Cape Fear River and installing a drain system.

The costs for each option are as follows:

Option 1: To repair the cemetery to its pre-storm conditions is estimated to cost $388,125.  Madden said this solution has been deemed as not a viable option.

Option 2: Repairing the cemetery to pre-hurricane Florence conditions and implementing solutions to reduce the frequency and severity of soil movement in future significant storms is estimated to cost $760,650.

Option 3A: This option includes moving 275 graves to a new cemetery which would be located on a tract of land owned by the town across the NC 87 Bypass from the Elizabethtown Airport with an estimated cost of $2.8 million to complete.

Option 3B: This option includes leaving the graves where they are located and installing a 400-foot wall of underground sheet pile along the Cape Fear River and installing a drainage system. It has an estimated cost of $3.3 million.

Madden said the town council is “leaning towards” relocating the cemetery.

“Based on the report, the board authorized us to submit the full report with the four options to FEMA,” said Madden.

He added town staff have been meeting with FEMA regarding the damages to the cemetery but has been waiting for the final report from the engineer to be completed. Madden said the report on the damages was submitted on Wednesday.

Madden said following a declared emergency such as Hurricane Florence FEMA normally pays for things to be restored to pre-storm conditions. If any improvements or changes are made to a project that are beyond repairing the damage, the applicant must absorb those remaining costs. Madden said there are other avenues for funding to assist the town with repairs to the cemetery being considered.

Other damages that occurred in the town are also being submitted to FEMA for funding. They include repairs to roads, repairs to the wastewater treatment plant roof and fence, repairs to the Lockmaster’s house and the restrooms and damages to Queen Street. The total estimated costs of all repairs to the town is $4,774,399.

“Our first step is to submit (the list) to FEMA, find out what they are going to reimburse us for then we will submit the remainder to the other funding sources,” said Madden. The funding sources include Golden Leaf foundation and the legislature.

There was also a discussion during the evening session regarding the economic impact of the airport to the local economy.  According to the presentation, North Carolina’s general aviation airports generate $4.9 billion to the state’s economy. Airports generate jobs and support local businesses through such things as capital improvements such as the new terminal that was recently constructed at the Elizabethtown Airport.

The construction of the new airport terminal had a direct impact on Bladen County through the hiring of an architecture firm, an engineering firm (W. K. Dickson), and a construction firm (Graca Builders). There was also an indirect impact on the county through the use of printing companies for documents and blueprints and equipment and raw materials suppliers, according to the presentation.

According to the presentation, both direct and indirect employees spend their earnings on dining, entertainment services, travel and other items thereby supporting those occupations as well.

According to the presentation there are 40 jobs attributed to the airport and the airport generates a total of $13,560,000. It also generates an estimated $2,000,000 in employee earnings which are spent in the community on various goods and services.The airport generates $211,000 in state and local taxes, according to the presentation.

The report also showed there are 23 aircraft based at the Elizabethtown Airport.

Madden also said the town staff have proposed a 2.5 percent increase in sanitation fees and water and sewer rates. The town staff is also proposing a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment for town employees. There is no proposed increase in the town’s ad valorem tax rate, said Madden.

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