SWANSBORO – Gov. Roy Cooper made good Tuesday on his recent promise to visit Swansboro where he met with business owners and elected officials to assess the damage from Hurricane Florence still plaguing the small, coastal town.
“It helps me to talk to people where it’s happened,” Cooper said as he met town commissioners and staff at the outdoor dining area at The Boro Restaurant and Bar on Front Street.
On a tour of Carteret and Onslow counties, Cooper was in Swansboro at the behest of town representatives. Part of his visit included seeing the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence to two waterfront restaurants.
The first stop was to view the demolition work at the Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant. The overwater restaurant that butts up to The Boro had been reduced to flooring. “I’m so sorry you guys have gotten hit; it’s an important meeting place and restaurant,” Cooper said to the owners, Randy and Nancy Swanson.
Mayor John Davis then led Cooper and officials, including town commissioners, from the Icehouse to Saltwater Grill. The two Front Street restaurants are only separated by a few blocks that are lined with shops.
Davis told Cooper during the short walk about the hits some of the downtown businesses took from the hurricane as well as the secondary impact from the storm, including the effect it has had on tourism.
Cooper said after the tour that “It’s good to talk to the people of Swansboro and hear the issues that people are facing as a result of Hurricane Florence.
“We’ll certainly provide all the help that we can. We know that our coastal communities are critical to our economy and our state, so it benefits everyone for this town to get back on its feet, not just for the residents here, but the people who have jobs here and the people who come and bring tax money to our state,” he said. “We’re hoping that things get better here soon. This is a resilient and determined community. I can tell that from the get-go.”
Cooper said what has struck him most about meeting coastal residents after the storm is their determination.
“I think it’s the determination of North Carolinians to get back in the saddle as quickly as they can. We’ve got to work to get displaced homeowners an affordable place to live, but we know these businesses have to get going,” he said. “One thing I’ve told business owners who have worked hard and opened their places for businesses, that Swansboro is open for business and people from the state and surrounding states need to know that because they’re here and ready to go.”
Fred Schachter, president-elect of the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce, had invited Cooper to visit Swansboro.
“When we were doing the relief effort right after the storm had ended, we noticed that we didn’t have any presence from the state or the county or anybody, I heard on the radio that the governor was going to be at the Newport firehouse having a press conference,” he said, “So myself, Commissioner (Brent) Hatlestad and Mayor Davis and I got in the car to go see the governor and tell him that Swansboro is hurting and we need help and today he’s fulfilled the promise of coming here.”
Schachter said that Cooper’s trip was an opportunity to show the governor “A. how the community came together and B. how the community still needs help.”
Owner of Saltwater Grill Kim Pierce, after showing Cooper the destruction to the three-story structure housing the restaurant, said they’re happy that the governor made the visit.
“We want someone to get here and see the extent of the damage. We’ve had people say that we were devastated, there was nothing left, and others say there was minor damage to downtown businesses … we want someone to come see what’s been done and what we can do to fix it,” she said.
Catty-corner to the Saltwater Grill is Through the Looking Glass. The owner of the flower and gift shop, Hal Silver, said the governor’s visit was wonderful. The longtime downtown business owner was in the process of repairing the interior of the shop that flooded. The bottom half of the walls along the perimeter of the building were stripped to the studs.
Silver said they we’re going to put up Hardie Board instead of drywall, as water doesn’t penetrate it, and spray-in insulation that’s waterproof. “We’re making some improvements since we’re getting so many of these storms,” he said.