Mayor says base success tied to city success

Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said support of Cherry Point will be the top focus as city officials look ahead to 2017.

“How successful we are at the base is tied very integrally to how successful we are as a city,” said Lewis. “Anything we fail to do there will affect us domestically in the city of Havelock.”

Lewis said it almost goes without saying that the top priority in the coming year will be support for the base, whose personnel comprise more than half of the city’s population.

“Havelock will continue to be vigilant on any issues concerning Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point,” he said.

That could include efforts to support bans on tall structures near the base, making sure that a proposed lift fan facility is funded at Fleet Readiness Center East, and the hangars for the coming F-35B squadrons are built.

“We will stay very engaged in that, not just with Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow,” said Lewis, who is president of the base lobby group.

“Of course, in Havelock we take it very personal,” Lewis said. “It is our base. It is in our city limits. We take that responsibility very seriously.”

Lewis said changes in the administration at the state level and at the federal level will be a challenge.

“The North Carolina Military Affairs Commission is very likely to be changing because of the new governor,” he said. “We are going to see new policies and cabinet members at the federal level, so I can see a lot of work this year by the city of Havelock making sure that all these new people understand the issues at Cherry Point and know why we are working for what we’re working for.”

Outside the base perimeter, Lewis believes that economic development and infrastructure will lead the priorities when a city contingency has its annual visit to Washington in February to consult with congressional leaders and representatives of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“For the future of Havelock, we have to start thinking about infrastructure for the bypass down Lake Road and out west,” Lewis said.

However, that infrastructure may be harder to finance. In previous years, Havelock benefitted from a waiver that allowed the city to apply for U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development funds and low-interested loans. Such funding was behind construction of the new city hall as well as the city’s $11 million sewer project that resulted in increased system capacity from relocating its wastewater discharge pipe from Slocum Creek to the Neuse River.

The funding is normally reserved for cities with populations of less than 20,000, but Havelock and its 21,000 people operated under a waiver because of military deployments. That waiver is no longer applicable.

“Some of our options have changed with not having a USDA waiver,” Lewis said. “We are going to be talking to them about what our options are and where we could potentially get some grant money or low-interest loan money for anything that we might do in that infrastructure realm,” said Lewis.

Other points of emphasis in 2017 will be the city’s pending construction of bathroom facilities at the Slocum Creek Recreation Area with N.C. Coastal Area Management Act funds, said Lewis.

“I think it will make it a much more useful park for people who want to go out there and hang out for several hours,” he said.

Once that is completed, Lewis said the city would look at the long-term future of the project.

“The idea would be to rephrase the project and figure out what’s next,” he said.

Another park facility, the recreation area at the end of Lewis Farm Road, is at a standstill because the ground is not suitable to handle a septic system for the planned bathrooms. Lewis said the city was exploring its options.

In the coming year, Havelock is expected to see the first work begin on the flyover project at Slocum Road and U.S. 70. The bridge construction is designed for easier and safer access on and off Cherry Point through the Slocum Gate.

“I know that they are in property negotiations as we speak,” Lewis said. “Ground is supposed to be broken this year, and last I heard they were right on schedule.”

Construction could begin in the spring and last for another 18 months. By 2019, there could be people driving on it.