Sunday, June 16, 2024

Surf City responds to owners who returned post-Florence to find business condemned and padlocked

The town has broken its initial silence on the issue, but the owners of Ecological Marine Adventures still have questions and concerns about their business.

SURF CITY — Owners of Topsail Island’s Ecological Marine Adventures said on Tuesday they were still waiting to hear directly from the town concerning why their portion of the building — which they rent from the town — remains padlocked and is deemed condemned a month after Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast.

READ MORE: Surf City business owner returned after Florence to find building padlocked and condemned, despite minimal damage

After arriving at the building on Sept. 19, owner Taylor Maready said he was “relieved and surprised” to see that damages were less extensive then what they were told by Town Manager Ashley Loftis — specifically,  that there was, in fact, no standing water and that mold damage was minimal.

On Wednesday afternoon Loftis issued a response in a letter to the Port City Daily, acknowledging that the town “should have had better communication with the renter prior to placing the padlock on the door. However, moving forward the Town had kept open communication with the renter.”

Maready backed his claim, saying that although he is frustrated about the lack of communication regarding the town’s decision to padlock the building, but adding, “they have been better at returning our phone calls, as far as the inspector letting us into the building to feed the animals.”

In the letter, Loftis stated that the town’s building inspector had arrived on Friday, Sept. 21 and determined that the southern portion of the building, occupied by Ecological Marine Adventures (EMA), was the only space where the roof had peeled back during the storm, and thus posted a Notice of Condemnation. The following Friday, a padlock was placed on the door to that side of the building after “our building inspector received word that Mr. Maready had been letting children inside that building even after the condemnation notice was posted and he was asked not to have anyone go in and out of the building.”

“For the safety of the Town and anyone going into that building a padlock was installed,” Loftis said.

A student at Ecological Marine Adventures in Surf City. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy of Ecological Marine Adventures)
A student at Ecological Marine Adventures in Surf City. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy of Ecological Marine Adventures)

Although the town responded to EMA’s concerns last week on Facebook, Maready said that he and his wife Amber hadn’t “heard anything since” and had turned to Jacksonville attorney Andrew Snow to write a letter to town administration on their behalf. He said Snow is now in direct communications with the attorney representing Surf City on the matter.

The Mareadys said they have found foster homes for the animals that live inside the building — fish and other marine animals that EMA used in an educational capacity for children — and have canceled the remainder of their fall and winter programs due to the uncertainty surrounding the building’s status. EMA is losing over $2,000 of income per week due to the building’s closure and refunds have been issued for the fall semester of classes, according to Amber Maready.

The town’s Facebook post also assured readers the town was taking necessary steps to help EMA re-open, including scheduling appointments with insurance adjusters and engineers to determine a time frame for repairs. But according to the Mareadys, town officials had not yet informed them of when such assessments would take place.

“They haven’t even personally said, ‘Hey, we’re working on this or we’re working on that,’” Amber Maready said. “When they put that [post] out on Facebook they didn’t contact us or tell us anything. We’ll take a public statement that they’re working with us, but we would like for it to be backed up by action.”

Taylor Maready added, “in that post they said they were working with us to resolve it, but we still haven’t heard from them on how they are going to resolve the matter.”

Loftis said that an insurance adjuster assessed the building’s damage on Oct. 8, adding the following:

We are also awaiting an engineer to come and assess the stability of the roof from the inside of the building. Once we receive these reports back, Town Council will then to decide as to if the building needs to be repaired or if that portion of the building needs to be taken down and other facility arrangements need to be made for Ecological Marine Adventures. This will be a very tough decision for the Town as they figure out if the cost to citizens for repairs on a building that is at least 50 years old is worth the $400 a month rent that is received from the business. I am certain that if the decision is made to take that side of the building down for the sake of public safety, the Town will do whatever is necessary to relocate their business. The Town would like to apologize for the lack of communication on this issue, as we were unaware that Mr. Maready had the desire to seek legal counsel about any repairs. At this point the Town’s attorney became involved and we were limited to what could be said publicly.

Letter from Town Manager Ashley Loftis:

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