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County officials accept EDA grant

Taking part in last week’s EDA check presentation were, from left, County Manager Toby Chappell, County Commissioners Chairman Graham Twine, Betty Jo Shepherd of Senator Richard Burr’s office, Congressman G.K. Butterfield and County Commissioners Jack Owens and Henry Jordan. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

GATESVILLE – Congressman G.K. Butterfield was a tad bit late arriving here Thursday for a scheduled appearance at Merchants Millpond State Park.

However, local officials didn’t seem to mind the tardiness. After all, the Congressman was bringing along a $900,000 check.

That formal presentation did occur, marking the largest share of funding for Gates County local government as they move forward with plans to vastly improve the county’s infrastructure.

The money came courtesy of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. That $900,000 investment will be used to rehabilitate and expand wastewater treatment facilities to serve a new commercial development located on US 158 in front of Gates County High School.

“I know this is a happy moment for you, a happy occasion for Gates County,” said Rep. Butterfield. “I’m happy to be able to work every day for the betterment of my district, to be able to bring this type of financial resource for Gates County to help it move forward.

“We are a low wealth district, the fourth poorest in the nation,” the Congressman continued. “That’s a very sobering statistic, so that’s why I feel it’s a challenge to help direct resources into our counties. We use to be able to do that through earmarks, but those are no longer used. Now we must concentrate our efforts into directing agency resources into your projects, much like we were able to do with this particular grant from the US Department of Commerce.”

“This is a big day for Gates County; thank you everyone for being here to share in this day,” said Graham Twine, Chairman of the Gates County Board of Commissioners. “The commissioners have worked so hard on this project. We’ve had plenty of support, from Congressman Butterfield himself, to our county manager, our engineering team, our grant writer and others involved with helping us moving Gates County forward.

“In my humble opinion, this is the most progressively thinking Board of Commissioners that Gates County has had in a long time,” Twine added. “We feel it was time to move the county forward, positioning it for growth and this project, this $900,000 grant will help us accomplish that growth. Gates County is now on the fast track.”

The EDA is one financial source the county is using to expand its infrastructure. Those funds will be used to expand an existing wastewater treatment plant, upgrading it to handle a capacity of 50,000 gallons per day (it’s currently rated at 25,000 gpd). The project also includes all internal piping to Merchants Commerce Center, a planned commercial/residential development across from the high school, as well as extending sewer lines in both directions from the Center (1,500 feet east towards Eason’s Crossroads and 3,000 feet west towards Central Middle School) for future development as well as the pumping stations needed to handle the wastewater flow.

Gates County is also seeking grant funding from the NC Rural Center ($700,000), Golden LEAF ($200,000), Community Development Block Grant ($350,000) and the North Carolina Industrial Development Fund, part of the NC Department of Commerce ($500,000).

“The needs of the rural communities continue; the needs of Gates County continue,” Rep. Butterfield said. “You here do not have the tax base to do the things that the citizens of Gates County need and want for this community. Without that tax base, you either go out and look for other sources of revenue. You may look to the state, but we all know the story there, the state is facing a two billion dollar deficit. They don’t even have the money to spend for education; they’re cutting educational funding. The only other source of governmental funds is the federal government. We will continue in a responsible way to fund rural infrastructure needs such as the one here in Gates County.”

Equally as happy for Gates County was Betty Jo Shepherd, a field representative for U.S. Senator Richard Burr.

“When I got the call that this had been approved, I felt honored to have had the opportunity to work with Gates County officials on this,” she said. “The leadership of this county and the county manager has been tremendous in landing this grant. They applied previously and were turned down, but rather than giving up they had the foresight to ask what they could do to strengthen their grant request and, as you can see by this check, their efforts paid off. Our office supported them and I’m so proud of this. This money is going to a county, to a project, that really needs it.”

“Thank-you Congressman Butterfield for you support. We’re trying to do some great things here in Gates County. It’s not always an easy task, but we have commissioners that are persistent in their efforts and I’m happy to be a part of that team,” said Gates County Commissioner Henry Jordan.

“What you’ve done for us, Mr. Congressman, we are much obliged,” stated Commissioner Jack Owens. “This is an investment in Gates County and in our future. I think this news is encouraging for our citizens; we’re out there working hard for them to create a better future.”

To date, five businesses have expressed interest in locating to the planned Merchants Commerce Center. Only one has made their intentions public as Mickey Lee of Lee Insurance will build a new office in that commercial complex.

“A development such as this will serve as a catalyst to attract more business to Gates County,” said Lee who attended last week’s check presentation. “That development will be something we’ve never had before – a professional setting where our citizens can find different services in one area. That’s pleasing to me, as a businessman and as a Gates County citizen. We need to keep the business here at home, rather than seeing our citizens having to drive, and take their money, to shop and enjoy professional services outside our county.

“We’ve lost a lot of business over the years, and the tax base to go with it. Now we have an opportunity to recover some of those losses. The more opportunities we have to keep money in Gates County, the better off we all will be.  The pieces are coming together. We had to have this infrastructure in place first before we can move to the next level of attracting commerce. I’m excited over these opportunities and happy that we’ve opted to move our growing business into the commerce center,” Lee concluded.

The project, which will be funded with federal, state and local funds, will improve infrastructure to support the county’s largest commercial development in history. The first phase is expected to create 93 jobs, and, once complete, the project could create more than 500 jobs.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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