Chincoteague Officials Approve Assistance to Watermen, Businesses Hurt by Pandemic

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Chincoteague Mayor Arthur Leonard (right) and Vice Mayor Denise Bowden. File photo.

By Carol Vaughn —

Chincoteague officials voted to give financial assistance to working watermen and businesses in town, using nearly $252,000 in federal CARES Act funds awarded Chincoteague from Accomack County’s allotment.

The county allotted $780,000 to incorporated towns, distributed based on population.

Details of the Chincoteague programs, which are based in large part on similar programs the county offered, were discussed at a recent Budget and Personnel committee meeting.

The town is allotting $30,000 for assistance to working watermen, who must have a VMRC card and certify that at least 51% of their income is derived from working on the water to be eligible.

They also must have a Chincoteague address as their primary address, or businesses that employ watermen must have a physical location in town.

Awards will be $5,000 each, starting with the earliest submitted qualifying application and proceeding in order.

“We will proceed until all the money is gone,” Tolbert said.

Applications for watermen were made available at the town office starting Wednesday, July 22, at 8 a.m., and must be submitted to the town office beginning 10 a.m. July 29.

Information can be viewed at https://chincoteague-va.gov/c-a-r-e-s-act-information-watermen/

Watermen who did not receive approval or funds from the Small Business Administration’s EIDL, unemployment insurance, or PPP grants/loans will be given preference.

The remainder of the federal money will go to assist Chincoteague businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Awards of $4,000 each will go to businesses affected by either the governor’s executive orders 53 and 55 or the Chincoteague mayor’s executive order 01, which closed lodgings in town earlier in the pandemic.

Applications for the business assistance program will be available at the town office starting Aug. 3 and must be submitted in person at the town office starting Aug. 18 at 10 a.m.

Businesses that did not receive approval or funds from the Small Business Administration’s EIDL, unemployment insurance, or PPP grants/loans will be given preference.

Information can be viewed at https://chincoteague-va.gov/c-a-r-e-s-act-information-for-small-businesses/

The town council after discussion agreed to eliminate a proposed limit on the number of employees for a Chincoteague business to be eligible for assistance.

Councilman William T. McComb Jr. said many town businesses, including motels, restaurants, campgrounds, and the waterpark, have more than 30 employees — the number proposed.

He called several of those businesses to ask how many employees they have, he said.

The town will advertise the assistance programs.

“The $251,000 that the town of Chincoteague is getting — every single cent of that is going to go to a business or a waterman. The county is keeping back approximately $1 million to work on some of their pet projects that they feel that they need to do,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden, adding, “…I just find it totally a slap in the face to businesses out there that could use this money during this time and that they have decided to keep a million bucks to themselves to work on their projects.”

Chincoteague has more than 1,200 business license holders, but around 650 are individual rental home license holders, who are not eligible. That still leaves hundreds of eligible business license holders.

“We’re not going to be able to please everybody,” said Mayor J. Arthur Leonard.

Leonard appointed council members Chris Bott and Bowden to a committee being established to review applications, which likely will include additional members.

Broadband Update

Robert Bridgham, Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority executive director, updated the town council about recent developments, including expansion of the fiber-to-the-home initiative.

The authority is similar to a public utility and owns, operates, and maintains an open access network.

Rates for its fiber-to-the-home service range from $40 to $176 per month, depending on bandwidth and length of contract.

The authority embarked on its fiber-to-the-home project in September 2016 and in 2018 announced its intention to expand the residential service to an additional 11,000 homes in a project funded in part by a $4 million loan.

“For years we held back from doing it…but we had meeting after meeting where we got a lot of feedback that we needed to do this,” Bridgham said of the service.

Service on Chincoteague is set to expand, according to Bridgham.

“Essentially, we are trying to get our main backbone as close to every neighborhood here on the island as possible,” he said.

A slide of the Eastern Shore Broadband Authority’s proposed Chincoteague broadband fiber network is displayed during the Chincoteague Town Council workshop on Thursday, July 16. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

Smith Street Property

The council tabled action on spending $30,000 for the next phase of an improvement project to property on Smith Street — which is to pave and make other improvements to the parking lot.

An individual has offered to donate half the $60,000 cost to pave the lot, Tolbert said.

The property was given to the town in December 2018, with certain conditions and a schedule for its improvement.

Plans include creating parking, paving the remainder of Smith Street extended, creating an athletic field, and installing playground equipment and a picnic area, among other improvements.

Tolbert told the council the town to date has spent $92,000 on the project, including for engineering, design, permitting, site work, and other costs.

Remaining in this year’s budget for the project is $50,000.

“Everyone here knows our current situation and what we are facing,” revenue-wise, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tolbert said, adding, “We are trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can be.”

He asked the council whether they wanted to pursue the next phase of the project at this time.

“Right now, I think that we need to back up a couple of inches here and see what’s going to happen the rest of the summer,” Bowden said.

McComb asked Tolbert to consult with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission about the possibility of finding a $30,000 grant to help pay for the parking lot.