Chincoteague Council Talks Cats, Grants, Paths, COVID-19, and More

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By Carol Vaughn —

Julie Brommer updated the Chincoteague town council at the Sept. 8 meeting about activities the group Chincoteague Island Community Cats is doing.
The organization had to cancel a planned Trap-Neuter-Release clinic in June due to the pandemic.
The organization recently received its first grant as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The $1,500 grant from the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies will pay for trapping, neutering or spaying, and releasing 30 cats.
Since June the group has trapped, neutered or spayed, and released six cats, working with local vets and transporting some cats as far as 3 1/2 hours away to low-cost clinics in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Brommer said.
Ten kittens were placed with rescues and 11 ear-tipped cats were re-vaccinated against rabies. Ear tips signify cats that previously were trapped, spayed or neutered, and released.
Most of the ear-tipped cats that were vaccinated came from the Inlet View area, Brommer said.
CICC was able to help 19 cats at the Inlet View property prior to demolition of all structures on the site as it is being redeveloped.
Blue Water, the property owners, recently contacted Brommer to offer a donation to continue TNR efforts on Chincoteague.
“They were very open to our help and also open to continue to stay in touch with me so that we can begin to plan for the cats as the area is developed,” she said, adding, “There are humane solutions to keep them out of the area where you don’t want them.”
Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor said the town should communicate to state elected officials the need for additional low-cost spay and neuter clinics in the area.
Councilwoman Denise Bowden said, “I’ve seen what you and your organization have done. … It’s much appreciated.”
CICC has a TNR weekend clinic scheduled November 13-15. Chincoteague cat owners may want to keep their cats inside so they are not inadvertently trapped during the clinic.
Maddox Walking/Bicycle Path Plans
Steve Katsetos, a business owner, spoke to the council about his concerns regarding the route of a planned bicycle/walking path on Maddox Boulevard.
“I was very disappointed,” he said, adding, “My building has been there for 30 years. I’ve got a right of way there, entrance, parking space. … So now I find out today they want to put a bike path through the drive-thru, straight through my property. …Where are my customers going to park?”
Katsetos said the path could result in accidents in the area.
He also said there is flooding in the area when it rains, which he has been told the town can not fix.
He said the town instead of a bicycle path should install another pump to help with the flooding.
Taylor said the town owns a 100-foot right of way in the area in question.
The money to pay for the bicycle path is part of a federal grant, Bowden said. “It’s not the town’s money,” meaning it can not be used for drainage or other uses.
Councilwoman Ellen Richardson recommended the public works committee meet about concerns Katsetos raised.
“The intent is to get both pedestrians and bicycles as far off Maddox as we possibly can,” said Public Works Director Harvey Spurlock, noting planning is in the preliminary stages.
Later in the meeting, the council voted to award a contract not to exceed $260,842 to Branscome, Inc. for sidewalk construction on Maddox Boulevard.
The money is the balance of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Multi-modal Trail Construction Grant the town received.
Construction is planned for Maddox Boulevard from Chicken City Road to Eel Creek and a portion of the traffic circle, according to a memorandum from Spurlock to the town council.
Some of the trail could be constructed of asphalt rather than as a sidewalk, according to Town Manager Mike Tolbert.
Additionally, the council voted to award a contract of up to $413,209 to Branscome, Inc. for paving and other work to be done this fall, including paving Bunting Road, Tarr Lane, and Mumford Street, as well as milling and sidewalk construction on Mumford Street.
The work is funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation Urban Maintenance program.
Tolbert said the amount of meals taxes collected in August for July sales was about $18,000 below the average for the preceding three years, but the amount of transient occupancy taxes collected was nearly $2,900 above the three-year average.
Taylor said, “We are very blessed as a town,” noting the transient occupancy tax was above average despite there being no carnival or Pony Penning this year.
CARES Act Grants
The town received 57 applications for its small business assistance grant program, which distributed federal funds for COVID-19 relief under the CARES Act.
A committee met and approved 50 applications. Ultimately, 53 awards were made after further investigation, according to Tolbert.
A total of $212,000 was distributed to small businesses on Chincoteague, with each grant award being $4,000.
Proposed use of a second round of CARES Act funds is under discussion by the budget and personnel committee and was to be presented to the council at its Sept. 17 work session, Tolbert said.
The town is getting prices for the first three playground structures to be erected at a new park on Smith Street. Public works employees will begin work on a soccer field and the playground at the park this fall, Tolbert said.
Water Supply
Tolbert and Spurlock on Aug. 27 toured the nearly completed filtration plant for Chincoteague’s water supply, which comes from wells on the mainland.
David Liu of NASA, the project manager, led the tour, which other NASA officials also attended.
One round of testing has been completed for the filtration system, showing it is effective at removing PFAS, a chemical that had been detected in Chincoteague’s water previously.
PFAS are man-made industrial chemicals manufactured since the 1940s that are persistent in the environment and in the human body. In the case of Chincoteague’s drinking water, they were traced to a foam used at a former fire-fighting training area at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility main base.
After discovering in 2017 that four of Chincoteague’s seven production wells tested positive for PFAS at above the EPA’s health advisory level, those wells were taken out of service and NASA began supplementing the town’s drinking water with water from the Wallops Flight Facility main base.
As a longer-term solution, NASA is installing the filtration system, which will enable Chincoteague to use its shallow wells for production, according to NASA.
The Chincoteague officials asked for additional testing to be done over a 30-day period, to simulate typical operations, before the filtered water is sent to the town.
They also asked for an inspection by the Virginia Department of Health Office of Drinking Water. The office has to approve the plant and could impose additional requirements before issuing a certificate of operations, according to Tolbert.
NASA Wallops committed to sharing all test results and health department inspection reports with the town, Tolbert said.
“The plant is very well constructed, as you might expect from NASA,” he said.
COVID-19 Update
The number of coronavirus cases Chincoteague has had since the pandemic started is up to 19, five more than when he last reported to council Aug. 20, according to Bryan Rush, emergency management coordinator.
“Here in the last week we’ve gotten a few cases,” Rush said, adding that most of the five “are probably still active,” which is the most the town has had active at once.
“This is going to happen and we will probably see some more, but Chincoteague is still safe,” as long as people continue to follow the guidelines, Rush said.
The uptick in cases likely is in part “because people have become somewhat complacent,” he said.
“We will see some more increases. … It’s going to happen,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce
Evelyn Shotwell, executive director of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber “has been hit very hard this year with cancelled events.”
“We’re looking at tremendous loss. All of our revenue has gone by the wayside. … We’re hurting,” she said, asking the council to consider making a one-time donation to the chamber in addition to the usual funding.
“We have had lots of people here this summer. … They’re new people. … A lot of the people this summer, they’ve never been here before,” Shotwell said, adding that marketing efforts have brought those people to Chincoteague.
The chamber in a recent press release promotes Chincoteague as “Nature’s classroom” — capitalizing on the fact that, with virtual learning, students can learn from anywhere.
“I’ve gotten good feedback from that,” she said.
Additionally, the chamber is sponsoring a “DIY Oyster Festival” Oct. 10. It will be a drive-thru event.
“So we are hoping to raise a little money that way,” Shotwell said.
The chamber lost $130,000 in revenue this year, according to Shotwell.
Accomack County officials recently voted to give $20,000 to the chamber.
“We are vital to the recovery process for the business community for the next two years at least,” said Benjy Holloway, Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce board of directors president, in a letter to the town council.
The chamber “is planning workshops, seminars, training sessions, and networking opportunities to help our businesses stay alive and succeed through this pandemic,” he said.
The town’s budget and personnel committee will discuss the request, Leonard said.
Mosquito Control
It costs around $13,000 each time the mosquito control airplane flies for Chincoteague, according to Tolbert.
He detailed the costs: $212 per gallon for the chemical, with 40 gallons used for each spray, totaling $8,400 each time; and $4,000 per flight for the airplane, plus $1,000 per flight for insurance.
The cost is why the town is “trying to be very cautious” about the timing of aerial spraying, Tolbert said.
Additional factors are that the town has to compete with the state of Delaware, which uses the same operator, and has to take account of the U.S. Navy, which sometimes closes the airspace. It also has to notify 24 hours in advance several residents and businesses, including beekeepers and restaurants with outdoor seating.
Weather and timing of mosquito hatches are also factors.
While costly, “it is the most effective thing we can do, if it’s done right,” Tolbert said.
Bowden said mosquitoes are a health issue as well as a nuisance.
Councilman Matthew Reed said the pilot should fly earlier in the morning and use a different flight pattern, with more passes, to be more effective.
“If everybody has complained to staff about mosquitoes as they do to us, you all wouldn’t be doing anything else but answering the phone about mosquitoes,” Bowden said.
Aerial spraying took place on Chincoteague over last weekend.