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Aquarium project aims to ease pier pressure

If you want to lure fishermen to your pier, it helps to sell beer and undercut competitors. But that’s not how the state plans to operate the one it’s building in Nags Head. Prices will be at least as high as those of private operators, and it won’t use beer as bait. “We want a place where you can drop your granddaughter off for the afternoon and not worry,” says David Griffin, director of the Aquariums Division of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Lawmakers and Gov. Beverly Perdue gave the $22.5 million project a green light in April. Construction, set to begin this month, will take about two years. That’s good news for anglers, but the pier represents more than another spot to wet a line. Public access to the ocean is vanishing as developers buy up coastal property for hotels and houses (cover story, September 2007). The North Carolina Fishing Pier Society says the number of Tar Heel piers has dropped from 36 in 1980 to fewer than 20. A new one would at least slow the trend.

The nonprofit North Carolina Aquarium Society, which raises money for the three state-owned aquariums, bought a private pier and its 5.5-acre site in 2003 — right before Hurricane Isabel clobbered the pier. In a controversial deal brokered by Sen. Marc Basnight, who lives in nearby Manteo, the society obtained state and local grants to help finance the purchase, then donated the property to the state. Society officials say the two-story pier house will include meeting spaces and classrooms for marine educational programs — including courses for beginning anglers — that fit the mission of the Roanoke Island Aquarium in Manteo. “We were lucky they realized access to the beachfront for the visiting public was disappearing,” says Chris Ivers, project manager for the pier. “A hotel sitting on that land would generate a whole lot more revenue.”

Construction will be paid for with private and public money, but Ivers says the pier will break even when operating. The state agreed to keep fees up and alcohol out to win political support from those worried about unfair competition for private operators.

Ivers says the pier will have a system that cleans and recycles wastewater, plus cisterns for catching rainfall, three wind turbines to generate much of its electricity and a heating system that pulls warmth from the earth. That environmentally conscious design could be used for other piers the Aquariums Division might build. The next one likely will be at Emerald Isle at an estimated cost of $14 million.

ROCKY MOUNTLS Tractor USAopened its U.S. headquarters and a distribution center here. The maker of high-end compact tractors, which plans to employ 134 within five years, is a subsidiary of LS Mtron,a South Korean manufacturer of heavy equipment.

ELIZABETH CITYDRS Technologies, which overhauls and services C-130 airplanes for the Coast Guard, plans to add 100 jobs at its maintenance center, giving it 300 local employees. The Parsippany, N.J., company will receive $1.2 million from the state.

LAURINBURGNature’s Earth Products will open a factory here in August that will employ 98 to make pellets for wood-burning stoves. The West Palm Beach, Fla.-based company, which also makes cat litter, will receive more than $220,000 in state and local incentives.

TABOR CITYHart & Cooley will close its factory, putting about 40 employees out of work by the end of the month. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company makes vents for heating, plumbing and air-conditioning systems. It is moving production to other domestic plants.

EDENTONMiTek Industries, a supplier of building products and software, added 29 jobs, bringing employment to more than 100. The Chesterfield, Mo., company is a subsidiary of Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway. It will get $28,000 in state incentives. The local plant makes parts for building trusses.