Ethics complaint questions motives in funding for potential Pender County aquarium

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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) – The plan to develop a shellfish aquarium on private land in Pender County through state money is catching some controversy. An ethics complaint has been filed naming state officials and the developer.

There has been no public site plan or blueprint issued to media or planned cost for the state funded shellfish aquarium. The New Hanover County Democratic Party chair believes it’s a bit fishy.

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“I think it deserves a lot more scrutiny before this becomes a done deal,” Richard Poole said.

The plans for a shellfish aquarium coming just north of the Pender, New Hanover County line does not sit well in Poole’s  stomach.

“There is no other aquarium in North Carolina financed by the state that is on private land,” said Poole.

Poole, a local attorney, filed an ethics complaint naming former NC Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender), Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) as well as the developer Trask Company and those who own the site of Blake Farm.

“The department of natural resources who would develop and run this thing, knows nothing about it,” Poole said.

Trask wants to build a 7,500 square foot aquarium on the site across from Scott Hill Loop Road. The state budget has $300,000 set aside for planning and helping the developer with it. That was included in the SB 257 appropriations bill in late June during a conference committee session. Funds now set to go towards a potentially state lead site without seeking other developers or bids to allow development. Poole says that is against state policy.

“All of that has been bypassed and I would like to see that go through that process.”

The complaint also questions if Raiford Trask III or employees with Trask Company lobbied for the funds to be put in the budget and if either of them registered with the state as lobbyists. Poole’s complaint also questions whether Millis lobbied for the conference committee members or for Grange and Rabon to change the wording on how the funds would be appropriated.

We reached out to everyone named in the ethics complaint. Rabon’s office says they could not get a hold of the state senator, and we are waiting to hear from the others.

“I mean maybe this idea has merit, but we really have no idea until it is studied,” said Poole.