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Ocracoke Current interviews County Manager Bill Rich

Managing Hyde

 

Hyde County is run by 130 employees and an annual budget of $12 million.

Newly hired County Manager Bill Rich is pleased with the quality of his staff, he said after six weeks on the job. Rich said "good things" are happening to address challenges the county faces.

Standing water after storms and heavy rains plagues Ocracoke village. Rich envisions a time when it will be possible "to ride past Blackbeard's on a bicycle at night without falling through a manhole."

A group of storm water engineers, representatives from CAMA, the NC Department of Environment, county soil and water scientists, and islanders gathered to discuss drainage issues. The meeting was held at the Berkley, and hosted by Pam and Jamin Simmons.

Introducing Ocracoke's mosquito control technician Beaver Tillett to Daniel Brynn, a soil and water scientist, was a great idea, said Rich.

"You talk about brains just working together," he said. "Beaver explained to Daniel that most of the soil that won't drain on Ocracoke is clay that was brought in."

They plan to take one bad spot at a time and replace poorly draining soil with rock and sand.

The group did not discuss the increasing numbers of non-migratory ducks that seem to like the ever-present puddles.

The Berkley will play host this upcoming week, on Thursday, April 25, to a contingent of North Carolina Congressmen and Senators who are members of the transportation committee. Most have not visited Ocracoke before, said Rich.

A Friday morning tour is designed to give the group a picture of "why ferries are so important to us." Tour organizers want the elected representatives to "understand the economics. The less they charge [for ferries] the more the state will earn in sales tax," said Rich.

Former Ocracoke Commissioner Darlene Styron, OCBA President Rudy Austin, and Connie Leinbach worked with lobbyists Henri and Joe McClees to set up the visit. The transportation committee members will leave on the 1 p.m. boat to Cedar Island en route to the state ferries in Pamlico County.

East Carolina Bank will close its Engelhard headquarters when it begins doing business as Vantage South. 14 or 15 good private sector jobs will be lost, said Rich.

Vantage South appears to have no plans to center operations in Hyde again. The 11,500 square foot facility where ECB processed banking transactions has been offered to the county. The furniture is still in place, and Vantage South is prepared to basically "hand us the keys," said Rich.

"We would not take it if we didn't have a plan," he said. "We could fill it tomorrow."

Part of the space will likely become a satellite branch of the Sheriff's Department. Calls to Engelhard require officers to make over an hour round trip drive from Swan Quarter.

Rich said office space in the "sophisticated building" could entice companies to start doing business in Hyde. Manufacturers of drone aircraft already find the wide open, relatively uninhabited spaces of Hyde appealing. For the past several years experimental drones have been at work counting wildfowl populations, and measuring disease in crops. They use tiny cameras and ultrasound technology. Or sonic? Or both? Conspiracy theorists, unite!

Rich said drone technology would be a great way to ensure necessary pharmaceuticals reach the island. For medical purposes, obviously. Property owners are still entitled to their air space. Or are they? Commissioners have no plans to look into that question.

Hopefully the current drone company operating in Hyde can spur other innovative young companies, and having the former ECB facility available will allow for economic development on the mainland.

"We need jobs," said Rich.

The Hyde County Revolving Loan Fund can be a source for job creation. Commissioners recently approved an $80,000 loan to a mainland company that builds pallets, and employs 20 people. There are 5 or 6 loans currently out there, and money remains in the fund to encourage small business start up and growth.

Nobody on Ocracoke has yet applied for a loan from the fund, said Rich. Applications are accepted year round.

In his capacity as County Manager, Rich delivered Meals on Wheels on the mainland, attended a livestock show in Ponzer, and addressed the Ponzer Chamber of Commerce.

The County Managers report will become a regular feature on Ocracoke Current.

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