SURF CITY — Two of the three towns along Topsail Island remain closed to the general public on Thursday afternoon, continuing to limit traffic to residents, contractors, power companies, and emergency crews focused on post-Florence cleanup and recovery efforts.
Although earlier this week Mayor Dan Tuman of North Topsail Beach reopened his town to all traffic, officials in Surf City and Topsail Beach, which share the same swing bridge to reach the island, have continued to apply restrictions.
“Everybody’s curious,” Pender County spokeswoman Tammy Proctor said Thursday afternoon. “Surf City had some (beach) erosion but I would say, for a barrier island, they did pretty well. They’re cleaning up debris, and the homeowners need to get their ducks in a row and get things repaired.”
Surf City Councilman Jeremy Shugarts said that although no roadblocks are set in place at the bridge, town officials are strongly discouraging any tourists from entering the island. Construction, excavation, and utility companies need the space to work, he said.
“We’re trying to get things fixed and cleaned up, and what we don’t need is an extra 10,000 people here, looking around while we’re doing that,” Shugarts said.
Addressing concerns that town officials and council members have personal interests to keep the island closed — namely, that anybody who owns vacation rentals on the island will receive rental-loss insurance payments after 30 days of a local state of emergency — Shugarts said he believes the town’s reasons are altruistic in nature.
“I don’t think the island, or the mayor or the town council or the city, are keeping (the closure) into effect just for insurance purposes. They’re doing it because that’s where they are right now,” Shugarts said.
Shugarts added that he fully supports Mayor Doug Medlin and City Manager Ashley Loftis in their decision to keep the island side of their town closed to the public.
“There are reasons why they want the public to stay away, and these are good reasons,” Shugarts said. “When you see the debris piles you’ll understand why we don’t want anyone on the island. It’s just not safe.”
A curfew of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. also remains in effect in Surf City, although not on the mainland side of town.
Proctor said that there was nothing mysterious about the continued closure — it was simply a matter of safety and practicality.
“They’re eager to open up. They just need to have some time to put the pieces back together. So that’s all that’s going on, no more Operation Bumblebees or anything like that,” Proctor said, referring to a series of towers along the island that once housed a secret Navy missile development program.
Journalist Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com