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By Connie Leinbach
PCL Construction, the company building the new Bonner bridge is willing to come to the table and talk about a restitution settlement for Ocracoke Island’s losses during the week-long power crisis that closed the island.
“PCL reached out and they want the opportunity to settle this peacefully,” Hyde County Manager Bill Rich told more than 70 islanders who attended a meeting this morning in the Community Center. “They realize they have a huge responsibility to the state.”
Ocracoke Island reopened to visitors today at noon after full power was restored after seven days of both Hatteras and Ocracoke running on back-up generator power. Power was lost when the main transmission line to the islands below the bridge was cut off at 4:30 a.m. July 27 when crews rebuilding the Bonner Bridge sank a steel casing alongside the work area accidentally severing the main cable.
Rich and Kris Noble, assistant county manager, explained to islanders that all businesses and individuals need to tally up what they estimate their losses for the week, including lost food, wages and revenues.
The assembly was instructed to include what their revenues were from the same week last year along with back-up documents. The county also will tally its estimated revenue loss from sales and occupancy taxes.
Documents should be submitted to Hyde County by Friday, Aug. 11, via U.S. Postal Service, fax or by email.
Office of the Hyde County Manager, PO Box 188, Swan Quarter, NC 27885.
Fax: 252 926-3701
Noble said people may call her with questions at 252-926-4180.
Forms are available at the Variety Store, and forms in English and Spanish are available on the Hyde County website here.
Once everyone submits their totals, the county will be the liaison with PCL. Rich stressed that this route involves no legal fees that would accrue in a class-action lawsuit.
“We don’t know how it will play out and how soon it will be,” Rich said, “but this is an effort to protect us from outside efforts and for all of us to work as a team.”
He said the state attorney general’s office agreed that this is the best way to proceed.
While PCL has issued an individual claims form on its Facebook page for those affected by the outage here, Rich said it would be best if the entire island submits the request to the company.
All information submitted to the county will be confidential, Noble said. However, PCL will have to submit the county’s package to their insurance company and, down the road, to the IRS.
Rich praised the efforts of Ocracoke Control Group, Tideland EMC, all of the electric companies’ around-the-clock efforts to repair the damaged transmission cable.
He noted that Gov. Roy Cooper and the NC DOT accelerated resolution of this event. In two days, Lee Electric and New River Construction set up poles and spliced the damaged cables for installation over the span of the Bonner Bridge. After the meeting, Cooper called into What’s Happening on Ocracoke on WOVV 90.1 FM, the island’s community radio station, to reiterate his support. Noble also talked about the county’s efforts.
“If he (Cooper) hadn’t helped, they’d still be pumping water out of that hole,” Rich said.
He was referring to the initial efforts to dig out the third of three submerged cables. One was OK; one was damaged and spliced together, but the third was buried farther down into the sandy water and unable to be reached.
While one crew was digging, other electric crews began setting up overhead poles to string new transmission lines along the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet to connect the lines on Hatteras Island.
Within a couple of days of the initial blackout, both Hatteras and Ocracoke received power from portable generators. Although the generators provided enough power for the residents, they did not have enough output to power to also the full complement of summer visitors which is why the mandatory evacuation was declared.
Ocracoke islanders generally were positive about this morning’s meeting.
“I think coming together as a county makes more sense than everyone (seeking restitution) individually,” said Ashley Harrell, co-owner of Gaffer’s Restaurant, Friday afternoon after she discarded about $8,000 worth of spoiled food.
Gaffer’s will reopen tomorrow, she said. While a number of businesses reopened Friday, all will reopen Saturday.
“It sounds like a good plan,” said Vince O’Neal, owner of the Pony Island Restaurant, which will reopen tomorrow. “Any time you can avoid litigation, you’re better off. A lot of people lost a lot.”
“It seems like a viable effort to pursue this as a county,” said Tommy Hutcherson, Variety Store proprietor. “It’s better than all of the attorneys and litigation. Bill and everyone were just spot on. They had it all lined up.”