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Federal government plays role in BEMC underground power line project

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

OCEAN ISLE BEACH—Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. hosted a luncheon last week to thank U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance with funding the replacement of aboveground electric lines with underground wires in local beach towns.

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Representatives from state, county and town governments gathered at Cinelli’s Wednesday to hear a report about the completion of the years-long project from BEMC officials.

“We’ve finally come to the conclusion of the project,” BEMC CEO Chip Leavitt said. “They were all available to be here, so we took the opportunity to thank them.”

FEMA’s federal coordinating officer, Mike Bolch, attended the event and explained the project saved money locally and throughout the nation as well.

“Instead of having to come back year after year and spend the same money to fix the same problems, this has prevented the problems.”

“FEMA brought [the concept] to our attention, and Mike McIntyre interceded,” Leavitt explained about finding grant money for the project.

During his presentation to guests, which included county commissioners, mayors of the beach towns affected by the project and other officials, Leavitt explained the vision originally came from BEMC’s former CEO, the late David Batten, who sought the approval of the beach towns to begin a mitigation project.

In 1999, BEMC received a preliminary $1 million federal grant to begin underground work after a pilot project on Caswell Beach yielded positive results during several hurricanes that battered the coast.

The cooperative then started talking to McIntyre about the project and, in 2001, BEMC received a $6.25 million mitigation grant, and additional funds followed from state and federal sources. BEMC invested $3.8 million in the project, resulting in a total investment of $12.9 million.

“It’s improved reliability for all the co-op members,” Leavitt said. “We now have a 99.7 percent electrical availability factor.”

McIntyre called BEMC “a great leader” and commented leadership was part of the process to getting projects completed.

“It’s always a great day when we see our own tax dollars making a better quality of life for our citizens,” he said. “This is saving on both sides of the ledger.”

Bolch said he was “pleased to have been a part of this process.”

“Brunswick County took the time to initiate this process so we could build on it and make it stronger and better,” Bolch said. “We think this is money well spent, and we encourage other communities to participate.”

State Sen. R.C. Soles, who also supported the project, called it a “great example of state, federal and town governments working together with private enterprise to get something done.”