Belhaven still pushing for eminent domain

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, August 29, 2015


ONGOING: Vidant Pungo Hospital closed its doors on July 1, 2014, and town officials have since continued to fight for its reopening, most recently attempting to reclaim the property under eminent domain.


There’s no rest for the weary, and for Belhaven residents, the battle over reopening its hospital is still ongoing with no clear end in sight.

Mayor Adam O’Neal was confident at Monday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting about the town’s plans to obtain eminent domain over the hospital property, which is owned by Pantego Creek LLC.

But the town still has conditions to meet and funds to obtain before it can move forward with plans to reopen the facility.

O’Neal said the town is still in the process of obtaining a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division to assist with the costs of opening the facility and plans to meet with the Hyde County Board of Commissioners in September to request a $300,000 loan to help with costs of reacquisition of the property.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners denied O’Neal’s request for funds at the beginning of June and said they would not discuss the issue again for six months.

“The money for the reacquisition is coming together,” he said. “We feel very confident that we’ll have the money.”

The attempts to reopen the hospital have been one of Belhaven’s most contentious issues.

After Vidant Health closed Vidant Pungo Hospital on July 1, 2014 due to an estimated $2.5 million of loss each year, town officials have made continual attempts to reopen its doors. Officials have opposed Vidant’s plan to build a 24-hour multispecialty clinic in Belhaven instead, and sought to claim the property from Pantego Creek under eminent domain. The Town of Belhaven has since picked up the tab on maintaining the building as well as utility bills from the property.

At Monday’s meeting, O’Neal said he was angry about Pantego Creek’s recent decision to turn off the air conditioning in the building, saying the growth of mold and mildew due to high temperatures in the building could cost the town even more money.

“I think the damage could be more than what we’ll save in utility bills,” he said.

Although O’Neal said he blames Vidant and Pantego Creek for hurting the town, both of the companies have defended their decision to leave the hospital closed, citing imminent deficits and opposing the spending of taxpayers’ money to try to save the facility.

In a letter to the editor from earlier this year, members of Pantego Creek LLC wrote, “We had, and continue to have, no confidence that the Hospital can be operated profitably as proposed by Mayor O’Neal. They simply have failed at every turn to provide anything more than unrealistic dreams. We have never received an actual business plan or any other documentation from his group. We, like everyone in our community, wish the hospital had been profitable and able to continue operation.”

Garland Burnette, program director at USDA Rural Development, said the department is in talks with Belhaven, but in order to proceed with obtaining loan money, the town must meet a set of conditions, of which Belhaven was informed in mid-July.

He said the two biggest conditions to be met are providing a certificate of need, essentially a license to run the hospital, as well as providing a property title.

The town has requested a $3 million of working capital funds and $2.97 million in funds for equipment and renovations.

O’Neal said the town is in the process of obtaining a certificate of need and hopes to have it within six weeks. The meeting with the Hyde County commissioners will address the condition of obtaining eminent domain and thus a property title, he said.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that the USDA loan and the eminent domain money are independent of the town,” O’Neal said. “To this day I can’t think of one single reason why anybody would be against (reopening the hospital).”