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LUMBERTON — County commissioners voted Monday to protect its more than $3.7 million industrial park project by placing a temporary moratorium on issuing building permits at the project’s site.

During a 9 a.m. meeting, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved halting the acceptance of building permit applications and the issuance of building permits for land within the area of interstates 74, 95 and 74 Alternate, where the city and county are working to develop an industrial park.

The decision was made during a public hearing in which no members of the public spoke for or against the decision to block permitting in the area. Doing so allows the county to protect the project from possible “hindrances,” Robeson County Attorney Rob Davis said.

“Right now the zoning would allow for certain development that would not be consistent with what the city and the county are trying to do in a joint venture in creating an industrial park,” Davis said.

The Robeson County Planning Board met March 29 and approved changing the site’s zoning to only industrial use “so we can have continuity of what is being developed in that industrial park,” Davis said. The permits moratorium allows the Board of Commissioners time to vote on zoning during an upcoming meeting.

“This will be a very temporary moratorium. It can only last up to 60 days,” Davis said.

The county and City of Lumberton were awarded more than $3.7 million in December from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority’s Industrial Development Fund – Utility Account for the project.

Commissioner Tom Taylor was pleased with the decision.

“That’s the crossroads of Robeson County growing, and I think it’s a very great idea to go forward with this project and get it done because there’s a lot beginning to happen out there,” Taylor said. “And it’s gonna grow so we need to protect it all we can.”

Board of Commissioners Chair Faline Dial described the project as “a very profitable action for us.”

Board members also heard a cry for help from Rowland Mayor Michelle Shooter and Town Clerk David Townsend, who asked for county funds to help pay for waterline repairs at a housing complex overseen by the Robeson County Housing Authority. The town cannot afford the cost of upgrades to the water system and has devoted much time and manpower to repair it already, the Rowland leaders said.

Town maintenance workers have made 37 waterline repairs since August at Benton Court Apartments, Shooter said. During that time workers have been taken away from other projects in town that need their attention.

“So, to the best of our knowledge, this housing unit was put in the 80s, so these waterlines are nearing 40 years old, and we’re having to spend a lot of time going in and fixing, fixing the waterlines,” Shooter said.

According to LKC Engineering, the plan to remove and relocate waterlines from beneath asphalt and roadways to Housing Authority grounds carries a preliminary estimated cost of $235,200, of which the Housing Authority has agreed to pay half. But the town cannot afford to pay the other half, Shooter said.

No action was taken on the funding request. However, Dial said the commissioners will speak soon about its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

“We’ll surely take this under advisement as we move forward,” Dial said.

Commissioner David Edge, who joined the meeting by telephone, spoke about Project Trash Talk, a weeklong anti-littering program for Public Schools of Robeson County students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The program is to take place the week of Earth Day, which is April 22.

Edge said he recently spoke about the curriculum with Superintendent Freddie Williamson, who gave the program a green light. The program was to take place this past Earth Day, but was cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns.

The curriculum features the Highway Hawk and teaches children about trash, its effects and why they and their parents should not litter, Edge said.

Dial commended Edge for his efforts in helping the program become a reality.

“And this is a solution, something that I’m just glad we’re being proactive about because we don’t want to keep having, you know, trash cleanups, or at least we would like to minimize that,” Dial said. “And the only way to do that is for it to not happen. And it has to start with our kids and it has to start with our youth to educate them.”

Commissioner Lance Herndon commended county residents for their recent trash collection efforts.

“We’ve had several active pickups in the districts,” Herndon said.

In other business, the commissioners voted to appoint Meagan Hendren as a plat review officer, effective Monday.

Commissioners also reappointed Thad Davis to the Robeson Community College board of trustees. Davis was appointed to finish the remainder of the late Commissioner Raymond Cummings’ term, which expires June 30. Davis’ new term will be from July 1 to June 30, 2025.

Reappointed by commissioners to the Board of Equalization and Review were Buddy Bodiford, Duncan Malloy III, Dan Lewis, Robert Moore, Bobby Locklear and Melvin Rogers. Board Chair Dial and Commissioner John Cummings will call in their district representative reappointments at a later date.

The commissioners also voted to terminate without monetary compensation the 99-year lease agreement between Robeson County and the Purvis Area Community Association trustees for the portion of Purvis School property containing the building. The termination came after the trustees failed to maintain the building, which was declared unsafe and demolished with no building on the land covered in the agreement. The agreement was entered into July 1, 2005.

Board members also voted to surplus 28 county vehicles, including trucks, SUVs and passenger cars.

The commissioners also voted to accept a bid of $7,000 plus the cost of advertisement for 5867 Barker Ten Mile Road in Lumberton. The board also voted to advertise a $2,400 bid for two parcels of surplus property in Smyrna plus the cost of advertisement; a $4,000 bid plus the cost of advertisement for 615 Canal St. in Fairmont; a $9,275 bid plus the cost of advertisement for two parcels at 2756 Marietta Road in Marietta; and a $3,400 bid plus the cost of advertisement for 110 Anita Road in Pembroke.

Commissioner Tom Taylor said the Personnel Committee voted to continue using Mark III Employee Benefits for five years.

Taylor asked for five-, 10- and 15-year plans for the county’s departments and future plans. He spoke of the county’s need to adapt, as elements like technology continue to evolve. The commissioner said he would talk later with County Manager Kellie Blue about his specific concerns.

“I’d like to know what our future looks like down the road,” Taylor said after the meeting.

During Monday’s meeting, Dial recognized Commissioner Pauline Campbell, who was featured recently in CountyQuarterly magazine, which is published by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

In her closing comments, Board Chair Dial extended “a sincere, heartfelt” statement to the family of the late Julie Eberly who was gunned down on Interstate 95 on March 25. Dial also said she appreciated efforts that led to the arrest of the man believed to be responsible for Eberly’s death.

“We just want to send our condolences as a board,” Dial said.

The next commissioners’ meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 19.

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