The East Hampton Town Council held a special meeting on Tuesday night to provide the town with an update on Bevin Bros. Manufacturing and PSI Plus, the two businesses destroyed by fire May 27.
Matt Bevin, the owner of Bevin Bros. Manufacturing was there, too, and he didn’t disappoint, with a stirring speech, an unexpected message and a vow once again to rebuild.
The first order of business, however, was for the town to discuss what assistance it had provided and the next steps it was taking. Acting Town Manager Jeff Jylkka said he will meet on Thursday with the offices of Congressman Joe Courtney and Senator Richard Blumenthal and Bevin. The meeting is designed to try and strategize on ways going forward and how the town can help facilitate Bevin getting some funding.
“The next steps for us are going to be dependent upon what comes out of the meeting on Thursday,” Jylkka said. “I think we’re going to have a little more guidance on what grants are available, loans that are available and then try to move forward from there.”
Town Council Chair Sue Weintraub said she has met with Bevin and discussed options for fundraising and media relations.
“I’m doing this more as a private citizen than a town council chairperson because that’s the business I’m in, is marketing and design,” she said. “We’ve been working together on some opportunities as have other members of the community who have been calling him with ideas, so we’re going to try and strategize some of those so that we can all be working from the same page and not duplicating efforts. So much right now in this transition period is just so key to help Mr. Bevin to move forward with some income and some new opportunities.”
Jylkka has been going through state regulations to see what options might be available with regards to tax deferral options as well as reaching out to the Brownfields Redevelopment Agency for their assistance.
“Probably the greatest resource we can provide is our Brownfields committee,” he said. “The first people I reached out to was them because it is an old factory and most likely there are some potential cleanup issues. So, we would look to them for guidance and get their recommendation as to how we should proceed. They would be able to help also with any type of EPA grants or DEEP grants, at least providing guidance to Matt Bevin in going through the process. So, that’s probably the first step, with respect to that side, is getting that cleaned up.
Offers of help have been coming from many directions, including Sue Berescik, the director of the East Hampton Public Library.
“This is a small idea I think the library is going to tackle,” Berescik said.
Her idea is called Shine a Light, an LED light that would have a transparent logo of the Bevin Bell factory on it. The light, which would come in a small glass jar, runs on batteries that come with it and would go in a window.
Berescik said that the light would wholesale for about $4 and be sold at cost or for a small markup. She’s in the process of figuring out how to fund the money but plans on selling them through local shops, community organizations and places like the town clerk’s office.
She hopes to get them into the library within the next couple of weeks and into thousands of homes in East Hampton.
Another thing Berescik is planning on doing is to work with the Chatham Historical Society to capture the history of the bell factory with photographs and links and “create a good, solid history” of the Bevin Bell factory on the internet using Wikipedia.
“The spirit that this community has responded with is overwhelming,” Weintraub said. “This Shine a Light idea that you came up with is awesome and inspiring and so reflective of our community. The people here care. They truly care about each other, their neighbors, their neighborhood and their history.”
Bevin, who attended with his wife, Glenna, and five children, spoke next and took questions from the council and residents.
He confirmed his intention is to rebuild.
“We’re going to keep making bells again and we’re going to be making them as quick as we can,” he said. “The next 180 years starts right now. This isn’t the end. We’re 180 years into this thing. I hope 180 years from now people are talking about this meeting and the day that a town didn’t give up.”
Bevin said he had recovered most of the dies, but that some remain buried.
“We’re trying to get them all out. We’ve got the vast majority out,” he said. “Bottom line is we’re working on those dies right now.”
Without divulging the temporary location he plans to use, Bevin said workers are busy preparing the site.
All very good news, but Bevin came with another message, a challenge to be more precise, and it got the loudest applause.
Bevin, who took over the company from his uncle, Stanley Bevin, in 2008, talked of an opportunity for a do over. He could have been talking about Bevin Bros. Manufacturing – a chance to start anew, perhaps come back bigger and better,
He wasn’t. He was talking about East Hampton.
Noting the amount of negative news the town has generated in recent years, Bevin implored the town to use this opportunity to put its differences aside.
“We have an opportunity to work together, to be of like mind, to rally around something that has nothing to do with partisanship, it has nothing to do with politics, it has everything to do with doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s bigger than us, we’re a little bell company. We have two businesses under that roof. We made pressurized cylinders at PSI, we made bells at Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Company. It’s so much bigger than these two little companies. We have 26 employees, there’s thousands of people in this town. … Every great thing turns on something. Every great chance to turn something around begins with one event. I’m asking the people of this town to rally around everyone whether you voted for them or not. I’m asking for the people on this council to work together … and give this town a chance for a do over. There is no reason why the town of East Hampton can not become a beacon for what it means to live the American dream. To rally around a cause, whatever that cause is.
“This means a lot to me. I didn’t get involved with this four years ago because this is a money-maker. I got involved with this four years ago because it is a part of the fabric of this town that when it’s gone, will never come back. This is Belltown. This should mean something. I think it does mean something. I’m asking each of you to talk to your friends, to talk to your neighbors, to rally around this in whatever way you can, even if that simply means that you’re just a little more civil to somebody that you don’t agree with on some other front."
Bevin went on to say east Hampton is not unique. Politics and other issues have ripped towns apart. It doesn’t have to be that way.
“Let this be a chance to reunite this town and let us be a beacon and an example to towns,” he said.
Bevin also spoke of the American dream and how America is a country of second chances. Keeping manufacturing jobs like his are critical because of the opportunities they represent.
“You talk about the American dream, you talk about what makes this country great. It’s because this is a country where people have a chance to climb the ladder,” Bevin said. “The lowest rungs of that ladder are made up of jobs that exist in places like Bevin Bros. Manufacturing and like PSI Plus.”
As an example, Bevin spoke of a mother and father who came to the country as political refugees 14 years ago with their three children ages 11, 7 and 4. They came unable to speak any English and it is the only job they’ve had since their arrival.
“Their oldest daughter who was 11 when she got here is now a fifth grade school teacher in the United States of America,” an emotional Bevin said. “She’s teaching kids that are the same age she was when she got here 14 years ago. Didn’t speak a word of English. That is the American dream.”
Also on the agenda was a way for the town to recognize first responders.
Some facts from the fire: 23 departments, 150 personnel and 16 cooperating agencies assisted. Also, more than a million gallons of water was used, 1,000 gallons of foam concentrate and 100,000 gallons of foam solution.
Praise was directed at Fire Chief Paul Owen throughout the meeting from council members and Bevin, and Weintraub suggested a proclamation acknowledging the fire department and all of the towns that assisted.