Bryson City town officials get update on coronavirus

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Officials from the Swain County Health Department and County Emergency Management provided an update to Bryson City board members in a workshop Monday evening at Town Hall.

Health Department Director Alison Cochran and Emergency Management Director David Breedlove told the board a countywide state of emergency would likely be declared this week giving the health director authority over what medical steps to take during the emergency brought on by a global epidemic caused by the COVID-19 virus. This action followed in a release issued Tuesday afternoon.

The pair was also on hand to answer any questions town board members had in regard to the epidemic.

Cochran said decisions on town closures, including restaurants and bars, will be up to the town board to decide. However, that authority isn’t necessary at this point as Gov. Roy Cooper issued another executive order Tuesday taking action to limit restaurants and bars to take out orders only and no dine-in. As of Tuesday morning before the order, several restaurants in town were already taking action.

The health director’s authority won’t usurp the town board’s authority inside the town limits regarding closures, she said.

“It will be up for the board to decide,” Cochran said.

Breedlove said the county’s decision to declare a State of Emergency will allow the county to take full advantage of any available federal funding for equipment and other vital needs during the crisis.

Currently, the county health department has three virus test kits, but the number will likely expand. The crisis is unfolding and conditions are changing, Cochran added. As it stands now (Monday) persons needing a test would go to Harris Medical in Sylva and would first have to be tested for flu. Subsequently, the patient could be tested for COVID-19 if the first tests were negative.

As of Monday evening there was one confirmed case of coronavirus in Macon County. The patient has apparently traveled from New York to Buncombe County to Macon County, Cochran said.

Town Manager Regina Mathis said as of Monday evening no steps have been taken specifically regarding the pandemic in town hall. However, she said the town hall could be sealed to visitors and business could be transacted through the bank windows in town hall, which was formerly a bank.

“It’s something you need to be thinking about,” Breedlove said.

In other action, the board continued to review a backflow ordinance that would require most businesses to install reduced pressure valves where the business connects to the town water system. The valves would prevent backflow of dangerous contaminants into the water system.

No formal action was taken on the ordinance, but the board has tentatively agreed to require the valves on any business with a fire suppression system connected to the town’s system.

The board has outlined 35 businesses and facilities in the Tier 1 category that would be required to install the valves first. No time frame has been set by the board to comply. The valves can run from about $300 to $10,000, a price that doesn’t include labor.

Some of the businesses included in Tier 1 include Ingles, the county jail, FedEx, Crisp Funeral Home, Swain County pool, the town’s breweries, the town’s dental offices, Swain Hospital, Swain Health, Mountain View Manor, Senior Assisted Living, car washes, laundry mats, tattoo parlors and hotels.

In other action, the board:

*Approved a contract with WithersRavenel for $148,140 for installing a new water line on Black Hill Road. There was a unanimous vote on the contract.

*Agreed to cut several proposed items from next year’s budget in anticipation of setting aside much of the town’s reserve funding for a new wastewater treatment plant that may cost more than $12.6 million.

Tentatively cut (no formal vote was taken) a request for a $72,000 steel building by Maintenance; various equipment amounting to more than $190,000 for Maintenance; a $51,000 dump truck from Streets; seven radios amounting to more than $5,000 for police, one vehicle of more than $47,000 for police; about $39,000 for a compliance officer for the town; and about $89,000 for new windows for town hall.

The town agreed tentatively to fund about $330,000 for a new fire truck. The chief has made several unsuccessful attempts to get grants in the past few years to buy a new truck. The town’s truck are more than 25 years old.

*Heard from Kyle Bentley who wanted the town board’s support for potentially using acreage the town owns for a mountain bike trail system, hiking trails near the water tank at Kelly Bennett Park. The facility would be funded by private sources, he said. Mayor Tom Sutton said the land was donated more than 25 years ago by the family with the understanding it would be used for recreation. The board gave tentative approval to the plan.

The next board meeting is scheduled Monday, April 6 at 6 p.m. in town hall.