County investigates land swap for Belhaven hospital

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2016

County staff is set to investigate whether a Belhaven land trade could pave the way to reopen the town’s hospital.

Commissioner Hood Richardson broached the subject at Monday night’s regular meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners with a resolution declaring the county’s support for the reopening of the hospital. Vidant Pungo Hospital was closed in July of 2014 because of ongoing financial losses, according to Vidant Health officials.

Richardson’s resolution pointed to the hardship the town has suffered due to loss of hospital jobs and an emergency room, and calls on commissioners to support the nonprofit hospital board, Pungo Medical Center, and its efforts to secure a $6 million USDA loan to reopen the hospital with an emergency room, 10 beds, and 30 additional beds for disabled veterans to be managed by an outside company. The resolution, however, did not include Richardson’s proposal for a land swap to obtain the hospital property — the lack of which stands in the way of PMC’s attempts to get the USDA loan.

Richardson proposed the county offer to trade a piece of Belhaven property with hospital property owners Pantego Creek LLC. The proposed property to be traded, known as the Cooperage Tract, was donated to the county last year and is comprised of 31.75 acres located adjacent to the southern corner of intersection of the West Main Street and N.C. Highway 99 South, with extensive frontage along Pantego Creek. The previous owners, Front Porch Acquisitions, owned by the Ross family of Greenville, initially purchased the property to build a residential development and marina; the county has discussed using the land for public access to the creek, including the construction of a boardwalk. Since the Cooperage Tract has been home to a lumber mill, fertilizer storage, a veneer and plywood company, marina and fueling station, feed mill and fertilizer plant at various points over the last century, the site has been assessed and judged a candidate for the Brownfields Program, an EPA program that provides grants and technical assistance to clean up contaminated properties, according to county documents.

“Can we do that? Can we give that land (away)?” Commissioner Robert Belcher asked in response to Richardson’s proposal.

County Manager Brian Alligood said there were no use restrictions in the donation agreement with the Ross family, but he suggested staff investigate whether it was even a possibility. Richardson, who is also a member of the Pungo Medical Center board, said Pantego Creek LLC had been contacted about the land trade, though it was not made clear who had been contacted and in what manner Pantego Creek LLC was contacted.

Commissioners voted, 7-0, to have staff investigate the matter and create a feasibility study, and tabled Richardson’s resolution.