By Junious Smith III, Halifax Media Services
Published: Friday, May 16, 2014 at 20:59 PM.
KINSTON | Thursday’s U.S. 70 Corridor Commission meeting was more focused toward updates on the highway. The next meeting may be more centralized toward economic benefits — and sooner than what is expected.
Chairman Robin Comer said the next meeting was initially scheduled for July 17 in Morehead City, but due to the economic impact study going public in several weeks, the tentative date has been moved up to June 19. N.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce officials are expected to attend.
“The objective of this meeting was to stay updated,” Comer said. “I’m excited about how the progress is going and we’ll have the economic impact study coming out in four or five weeks, where the benefits the corridor provides economically can reflect in that. Highway 70 is the second best highway economically behind (Interstate) 40.”
John Rouse, the DOT Division 2 engineer for Kinston, said there will be a corridor design public hearing for the city slated for this year.
“It will happen in either late summer or early fall,” Rouse said. “We’ve also got a draft environmental impact statement which will come out in early 2015. We’re doing this so the public can study and comment, then we’ll take their information and make revisions where they’re necessary. We have a record of decision as to the route in 2016, and it is currently unfunded.”
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said one of the main reasons he attended the meeting was to learn about the progress of the Global TransPark.
“GTP is creating a tremendous opportunity, and we need to do anything we can at a local level to support its job creation efforts,” Murphy said. “For example, just (Wednesday), the Lenoir County transportation committee voted to make three of our top five priorities related to the quad-east interstate loop concept.”
Durwood Stephenson, director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, said another significant focus is the crash rate, which is 465 percent greater than on I-40.
“We have a lot of bad accidents due to the traffic congestion,” Stephenson said. The crash data showed 28 U.S. 70 fatalities compared six on I-40 during the charted period.
“Our objective was to make Highway 70 a freeway,” he said. “It would be great to have it as an interstate, but that’s not sufficient at this time. We just want to reduce the congestion, which will lower the crash rate.”
Rouse also provided an update on the U.S. 70 Gallent’s Channel Bridge project in Carteret County for which piling driving is scheduled to begin in June and the bridge completed by 2018; the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass with the final Environmental Impact Study to be completed soon and right-of-way acquisition to begin in 2015; and the Slocum Road Interchange to Cherry Point air station, which is funded and work expected to begin in March 2017.
There was also a presentation in the meeting from Build N.C. Greer Beaty, one of the 501C4 lobbying organization’s founders, said the goal of Build N.C. is to be a strong advocate for transportation projects. Jim Trogdon, retired DOT chief deputy secretary, is a member of Build N.C. advisory board.
“We were just coming to let the committee know we exist, and we can be a voice in support,” Beaty said. “A project can be a long process, and there are so many factors are involved in it.”
Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety said he liked the overall vibe and chemistry of the board.
“It was a very positive meeting,” Daughety said. “We’ve got significant issues we need to deal with as far as funding is concerned, but this group is unified.”
Junious Smith III is a reporter for the Kinston Free Press. Sue Book of the Sun Journal in New Bern contributed to this report.
Mayoral candidate Ralph Clark, left, makes his opening statements, while John Marks, center, and B.J. Murphy listen at the mayoral forum Tuesday at community television station TACC-9 on Queen Street.
Sara Pezzoni / The Free Press
Kinston’s three candidates for mayor each had their lone opportunity to address viewers on the issues of the city on Tuesday evening.
Ralph Clark, John Marks and B.J. Murphy spoke at the TACC-9 community television station for a mayoral forum, as the three are looking to be appointed into office by the people after the Nov. 5 election.
Clark, who has spent 32 years in public office, including eight as the former city manager of Kinston, believes his extensive experience and knowledge would be vital in helping the community he has called home since 1999.
“Kinston has been great to me as a city manager and a citizen,” Clark said. “I have a lot to give, and hope (the city) allow(s) me to be the mayor.”
Clark also talked about education in his opening statement, acknowledging that the city council would not be able to intervene in the decision-making process.
“I would be remiss not to mention something about education,” Clark said. “Even though the city has nothing to do with the education in the community, it has to be supported.”
Marks, the pastor and founder of Increasing the Faith Ministries, believes Kinston needs to move in an alternate direction in fixing some of the issues in the community.
“We do need change,” Marks said. “Everybody that I ask or come in contact with, they are always saying that the city needs to be changed. I’m just grateful that our city and the leadership that is present are still doing things, but we still need solutions to a lot of problems. I just want to be an improvement on assets to the city of Kinston.”
Murphy, the incumbent seeking his second term in office, used his opening statement to speak on some of the positives he has seen in Kinston since he became the mayor in 2009.
“I have never been more excited about the opportunities before our community than I am right now,” Murphy said. “Our community is growing, and there are a lot of positive things happening. Just over the past four years, we have had a major focus on redeveloping our community, on making sure we have better streets, and we’ve had a more accountable government than ever before.”
Early voting starts on Thursday, and will run until Nov. 2, with Election Day on Nov. 5.
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.
For more information on reruns of the city council and mayor forums, visit tacc9.com.
“This tower has been open since 1974. A lot of other towers in this state have been open a lot of years. You just can’t shut them down overnight,” said Kinston Global Transpark Air Traffic Manager John Greene.
Last January that is exactly what sequestration was forcing the Federal Aviation Administration to do. Greene was one of the first to get the news.
“We were one of the 149 federal contract towers that were due to close right away,” said Greene.
If the control tower were to be shut down, that would be more than 10,000 military operations that no longer come to the global transpark.
“The fighters basically said, unless we have a dire emergency, we can’t come here without a tower,” said Greene.
Greene says it wouldn’t just be the military affected. The 11,500ft runway is the longest civilian runway in the state. In fact, it’s one of the longest on the east coast meaning 757’s and f15’s, to forest official’s operations, to 911 operations and even Air Force One uses these runways.
All of it managed from a farseeing control tower, now seeing into an uncertain future.
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory calling the loss of the tower a “major detriment to continued growth and development for this entire region.”
“What will it take to get it back? That’s a serious concern to the economic impact and liability to the future of the global transpark here in eastern North Carolina,” said Murphy.
“I think they realized they can’t just up and close the control towers like this. The people want them there,” said Greene.
The operations of the tower are including in the 2014 fiscal year budget which has yet to be approved. That budget ends Sept. 30th and there is currently no outlook for continued funding.
‘The postal processing plant is…in a building it shares with Friends of the Homeless.’
Kinston, North Carolina, is near just about nothing. The textile jobs went overseas years ago. Tobacco fell victim to lawsuits and health concerns. The airport has a runway two miles long and no commercial flights.
The Kinston Indians baseball team, pride of this town of 21,677 residents, left this year. Now the mail-processing plant and its 93 full-time jobs might follow the minor-league ballplayers to Raleigh — leaving more room for the landlord of part of its space, a homeless shelter.
The U.S. Postal Service plans to shut 223 of its 461 mail- processing plants as it tries to stanch losses that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe predicts may reach $18.2 billion a year by 2015. The service’s moratorium on closing plants lifts May 15, and it said it could save $3.1 million a year by closing up in Kinston and moving its work 92 miles.
“Around here in these times we’re living in, you can’t even give a house away,” said Perry Welch, 64, who has worked at the plant since 1973, making him the longest-tenured employee. If the plant closes, he said he’ll retire or try to find a job at the adjacent post office.
Donahoe, who started with the service in a post office, said plants like Kinston’s aren’t needed with first-class mail volume 25 percent less than in 2006. The plant closings would save about $2.5 billion a year, he said in February.
The service wants to stop promising overnight service for letters. Without that self-imposed mandate, it may have fewer processing plants that are farther apart. Plants on the list to close are spread around the U.S. in rural and urban areas, including facilities in Los Angeles, Chicago and Staten Island, New York.
The U.S. Senate passed a measure last week that would put off closing processing plants and rural post offices. Donahoe is encouraging the House to take up a bill that would make it easier for him to close facilities.
Processing plant workers across the U.S. earn an average of $53,159 a year, said Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based service. Average wages in the region including Kinston are $41,949, according to North Carolina’s Eastern Region, an economic development agency.
The Kinston workers, protected by a union agreement, may choose to commute to Raleigh or, if they’re old enough, to retire. While some plant workers live in Kinston, other employees already commute as much as an hour — through little traffic — to and from work.
Naomi Fairfax, 32, has worked at the plant for 6 1/2 years, commuting about 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Jacksonville, North Carolina. She said she’s “resigned to it closing. I wish they would tell me because I’ve got children.
‘‘People have to sell their houses if they’re going to relocate,” she said. “And what if you move and have to move again? What if you go to Raleigh and they say ‘go to Charlotte?’”
Boarded-up storefronts occupy parts of Queen Street, Kinston’s main drag, while Christopher’s Cafe and a handful of other eateries bustle during breakfast and lunch. The Chamber of Commerce occupies a stone-columned building that includes vestiges of what it once was — the main post office.
Kinston’s unemployment rate in February was 10.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from a high of 13 percent two years earlier. Unemployment has stayed at more than 10 percent since January 2009.
The region, starting about 20 years ago, pinned its economic development hopes on developing a giant cargo hub on the grounds of its airport. The state-backed Global TransPark has a runway capable of landing the world’s biggest planes.
Airfield of Dreams
Local business development executives traveled last year to the Paris Air Show and to the Farnborough International Air Show the year before to try to drum up business. They courted FedEx Corp. (FDX) (FDX) before it chose to build a facility in the Greensboro area, about 150 miles away.
Spirit Aerosystems Holdings Inc. (SPR) (SPR), a supplier to Airbus SAS and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., is the biggest tenant at TransPark with 270 employees.
Global TransPark was a “build it and they will come. And they just weren’t coming for two decades,” said Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy.
“At one time, Kinston was one of the foremost economic areas east of Raleigh,” Murphy, 31, said over breakfast at Christopher’s, where he greeted entering patrons by name or as sir or ma’am.
“But tobacco and textiles left and that really hurt us,” he said.
The postal processing plant is two blocks from Queen Street, in a building it shares with Friends of the Homeless. Rent paid by the service provides about a third of the $71,000 annual budget for the 40-bed shelter and soup kitchen.
“That would cut deep into us providing the services we provide,” Jasper Newborn, 67, the shelter director, said during a mid-day lull.
Sanderson Farms Inc. (SAFM) (SAFM) is hiring manual labor for a new chicken processing plant at the edge of town. Murphy is excited about the new jobs, which Newborn knows about because his clients would be happy to land them, at $8 to $9 an hour.
They’re not jobs postal workers are likely to want, said Jim Kleckley, a professor at East Carolina University in nearby Greenville who studies the region’s economy.
Spirit announced last year it would add as many as 200 jobs over five years, though they’re expected to be skilled manufacturing jobs that would require specialized training.
“Jobs change over time,” Kleckley said. “It’s going to be that everywhere. But one of the difficulties we have in eastern North Carolina is it’s more difficult to get new jobs to replace the jobs lost.”
Inside the postal plant, 40 workers stand operating hulking machines from 10 p.m. until around 6 a.m., seven nights a week, sorting mail for zip codes starting with 285. It’s an area stretching from beach towns Morehead City and Atlantic Beach through salt marshes and collard shacks to the one-time tobacco fields closer to Kinston.
On a busy night, a million pieces of letter mail may move through the plant’s machines. On an average night, 400,000 to 500,000 pieces do. Trucks back up to 14 loading docks to bring the sorted mail to post offices for delivery that day.
Will Smith, 53, and many of the other workers have been told for the past five years that their facility might close. Should that happen, Smith faces a 228-mile round trip commute between Raleigh and his home in New Bern, North Carolina.
“I really, really wouldn’t want to move or commute to Raleigh,” said Smith, the American Postal Workers Union local president, shaking his head. He said he hasn’t decided for sure.
Keisiva Ward, 32, started working at the plant five years ago, about the time mail volume and postal finances started their downward spiral.
“You never thought working for the Postal Service you’d go through this,” she said in a parking lot across from her workplace. “You thought you had a foundation.”
The plant’s temporary manager said it can be hard for the employees to see the scope of the Postal Service’s distress.
“To some degree, they don’t see the big picture,” Brenda Edwards said from her office. “It’s their whole world. And this area here is so depressed.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at email@example.com.
Reece Gardner and I discuss the GTP, Governor’s veto, Mayoral veto, 2011 City elections, non-partisan elections, Progress/Duke merger and more. This interview was taped live on 6/14/2011.