The world is an odd place, filled with irony and paradox. The irony can be cruel, as in America’s case, where the grand infrastructure of roads and bridges and intricate sewer systems that at one time put us at the forefront of innovation and life may now be our downfall—that infrastructure is in a very advanced state of decay. Roads are crumbling and thousands of our bridges look like they could collapse at any moment. Our power grid is ancient and over a trillion gallons of untreated sewage is leaking from our aging sewer systems each year. The same is true of Cape Charles; all the things that led to its early advancement may now be lurking beneath the surface ready to bring it all crashing down. The story of Flint Michigan may be far away in actual distance, but it is much closer to home in actual reality. Just like in Flint, the Town of Cape Charles is willing to bury its head in the sand and wait contentedly until the other shoe drops.
That may have already happened. Friday, the new library once again was flooded by a rancid, sewage backup. The rest rooms were once again secured, and library staff had to walk across the street to Kelly’s Pub to use the restrooms. With tourist season just around the corner, the sewage issue is rapidly becoming a crisis. While severe sewer issues are affecting the library and town hall, the danger this poses to what many consider the true jewel of Cape Charles business, Kelly’s Pub, is far more worrisome. For perspective: ten years ago, Kelly’s was this historic renovation that fueled the Mason Street revival. Ten years and chunk of meal tax collected later (Kelly estimates over $500,000), Kelly’s continues to spend thousands of dollars just to deal with the town’s failing system–Cape Charles not only refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem, but doesn’t even bother to investigate. Given that there is so much corruption and waste involved in the day to day operation of this town, that response is to be expected. As we continually witness, Cape Charles certainly spends more than enough money, but very little is spent wisely, or focused on where it needs to be.
This week, with more issues and no response from the town, owner Gene Kelly, at his wits (and at times his wallet’s) end, went to the town offices and tried to explain that dealing with an unresolved sewer problem is severely impacting his business, and putting it at risk. Could the town possibly pro-rate the (what most of us already consider extreme and exorbitant) water bill? The response Kelly received was very similar to the response the bar owner in Scorcese’s ‘Good Fellas’ got from the mob, “F U, pay me.”
The following exchange was related to the Mirror by Mr. Kelly:
DAVE FAUBER: It doesn’t work that way around here Gene.
GENE KELLY: What do you want me to do? I can’t operate like this.
FAUBER: That’s not how it works here.
KELLY: What does work around here? You know, I’m only going pay this amount, what you and I know I should owe. Right?
FAUBER: Okay. Then we’ll just have to use our leverage.
KELLY: What’s that?
FAUBER: (silence. stare)
Gene Kelly found out that evening what ‘that’ was. A town employee showed up at dinner time to randomly ‘check’ the water meter, and to be sure the ‘shut-off’ valve was working. Kelly told the Mirror that ‘he got the message’ from the town, loud and clear.
“What am I going to do? They got me where they want me. They can come in on a Friday night and shut off the water and I’m done. I have to keep paying them….and I have to pay my plumbers to continually fix their (the town’s) problems. And it keeps getting worse; and what if we have to deal with this during the tourist season…I mean, you tell me?” Kelly said.
Sources once again tell the Mirror that the renovation at [checking address] Tazewell is getting slammed in a similar fashion to Kelly. Workers can find nothing wrong with anything in the house, or out to the street, yet almost $8000.00 later, the serious problems still exist. Where allowing a residence to languish and deal with the pain may not pose that big a threat overall, allowing a failing sewer system to swallow up the Irish Pub is another story. And we believe there is more to the story.
What’s really going on? Is the town biting its hand to spite its face?
It is no secret that there has been some tension over the years between Kelly and the town. This may go all the way back to the beginning, when Kelly was forced to fire contractor Tom Bonadeo after he missed many deadlines, and produced work way below the standards expected by the customer. The response to this affront to a fellow ‘renovator’ by Dora Sullivan and the Town Council was to hire the recently sacked Bonadeo to the critical role of Town Planner. The years that followed were marked by the town’s petty haranguement of Kelly over generally inconsequential issues. While this was going on, just across at the harbor, the town was forging a backroom, sweetheart deal with The Shanty, essentially providing free water and sewer to Kelly’s direct competitor (all the while refusing to address the decaying sewer at Pine and Mason). While developing the harbor had been a goal for some time, if the town could accomplish that, and at the same time create a scenario that put Kelly out of business, it was a win-win.
It is also not a secret that there is out of town interest in purchasing the Pub from Kelly, however, at a bargain basement price. There is also a rumor that the town, through channels, fostered contact with the prospective purchaser. It is apparent that the town is hoping that they either run Kelly out of business, or that the pressure to stay open will force them to sell even when they don’t want to.
With the election of George Proto, and the hiring of Brent Manuel, there was some belief that Cape Charles would be turning over a new leaf, and that a new era of fairness, equity and transparency might finally be beginning. But, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and with the looming prospect of a Sullivan-Bannon-Natali council on the horizon, these latest antics indicate a willingness and desire to return to the old ways. At some point, the town must realize that it is places like Kelly’s that are the life blood of this town, the ones that stay open all year round providing not just employment, but also support the other parts of the local economy through basic stock purchasing. If the citizens had to choose between keeping Town Council or Kelly’s, I’m sure they would choose the latter. As a cautionary note, Brown Dog Ice Cream is right next to the sewage flooded library, so…..