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Shipyard back on city agenda

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The City of Elizabeth City plans to seek state grants to buy the former Elizabeth City Shipyard property on Riverside Avenue, shown in this file photo from August 2016.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Elizabeth City officials are trying again to buy the former Elizabeth City Shipyard – and apparently are willing to take on some of the site's environmental problems.

City Manager Rich Olson reported on Friday that the city plans to apply for three grants to help it purchase the shipyard, owned by Mary Hadley Griffin. The city has already applied for one, through the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and plans to seek grants this year through the Division of Coastal Management and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, he said during the council’s planning retreat in Kitty Hawk.

The city sought grants from those agencies to buy the property in 2016, but withdrew its offer to purchase after an environmental assessment found it was contaminated with heavy metals and other hazardous materials. The city was prepared to pay $1.2 million for the property before that environmental assessment, but it's unclear what it might be willing to spend now. Olson noted the city is seeking grants but has not yet made another purchase offer.

If the city buys the property, it would also become responsible for its cleanup. Olson said in 2016 that cleaning up the site could cost $1 million. However, on Friday Olson said the city is working with a Raleigh-based attorney on a “Brownfield agreement” with the state's Department of Environmental Quality that would limit the city's liability for the cleanup. He didn't say how much the city might spend on cleaning up the property.

Though the shipyard would be a costly acquisition, it is a large, prominent property on the city's southern waterfront. That's led city officials to make it a high priority to clean up the site for new use. An outside consultant working on a new waterfront master plan for the city has also identified the shipyard as a critical property for the waterfront's growth.

If the city buys the property through the Clean Water fund and other agencies, Olson noted there will be strings attached. The grants will require the city to restore and maintain the property for public use, rather than resell it for commercial development. That would stymie dreams of a new marina there, something some community members have called for during meetings related to the waterfront master plan.

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