Many questions, few answers about removed truck stop towers

  • Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 2:05 a.m.

SALISBURY — More questions than answers on Friday surrounded the surprising removal of a $760,000 air quality project at the former Derrick Travel Plaza on Peeler Road.

It’s still not clear who removed the truck stop electrification project, when it happened and where the equipment — largely funded with public money — ended up.

Also unclear is who will reimburse the $400,000 federal grant that helped pay for 25 electrification towers, which were pulled out only two and a half years into a seven-year agreement.

The two private partners involved with the project — former Derrick’s owner VPS Convenience Stores and CabAire, which installed the towers in 2010 — both declined to comment.

The companies appear to be on the hook to repay $400,000 in Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality funding, based on contracts signed in 2008.

According to the Centralina Council of Governments, which landed the CMAQ grant, the project was terminated within three years of installation.

“At this point, it’s our responsibility to match up the requirement with the performance,” Executive Director Jim Prosser said. “Clearly the equipment was not in place for the term that was required under the contract.”

Attorneys for Centralina are looking at options for legal recourse, Prosser said.

“Part of this is trying to get clarity regarding what happened and when it happened,” he said. “We would like to work this out without taking legal action.”

Jason Wager, sustainability program manager at Centralina, said he can’t remember having to pursue reimbursement of federal dollars because a project was terminated prematurely.

“This happens very, very rarely,” said Wager, who is heading up the effort to determine what happened and recoup the money.

Centralina didn’t know until after the fact that the towers had been removed sometime in late November, Wager said.

“I was heartbroken,” said former Rowan County commissioner Leda Belk, who was instrumental in landing the federal grants.

The towers, which offered truck drivers an alternative to running their diesel engines all night long, was supposed to improve air quality in Rowan County and boost economic development, Belk said.

“And now it looks as if it were all for nil,” she said.

The EPA has designated Rowan as a nonattainment area due to ground-level ozone pollution. Certain types of industries will not locate in Rowan because it costs more and takes longer to obtain permits.

“Somehow, the ball was dropped with all of the land being sold and being passed forward, and folks didn’t buy in to what we were doing,” Belk said.

Love’s Travel Stops bought the Derrick’s property on Nov. 19 for $1.5 million. A Love’s spokeswoman said the company did not remove the electrification towers or clear the site.

The company did not say whether Love’s requested the removal of the equipment, if Love’s was consulted about the equipment or whether any language in the sale documents addressed the towers.

Although previous Derrick’s owner VPS offered no comment, a VPS spokeswoman added that the terms of the real estate deal are undisclosed.

Love’s is not a fan of truck stop electrification.

Spokeswoman Kyla Turner said Love’s has towers at a handful of locations. She called electrification “an expensive system that is severely under-utilized” and said truck drivers sometimes complain about the towers.

Turner also said the towers take up a lot of room. That can create a problem for Love’s, which has a smaller footprint and offers between 70 and 90 parking spaces, compared to other truck stops that offer 250 spots, Turner said.

Love’s will not reinstall the towers in Salisbury and as a company is looking at other ways to improve air quality, she said.

It was not clear Friday whether the towers at Derrick’s were under-used and if so, why. Drivers pay a fee to use the towers, which is often about one hour of use for roughly the price of a gallon diesel fuel, Wager said.

Trucks that idle overnight typically burn about one gallon of diesel per hour. By hooking up to a tower, which offers heat, air conditioning, TV, Internet and more, drivers pay no more than they would idling all night and save wear and tear on their engines, as well as helping the environment, Wager said.

In a county already struggling with poor air quality, the removal of the electrification towers is a blow, said Dr. John Wear, director for the Catawba College Center for the Environment. And it could make it harder for Rowan to land additional projects, he said.

“It doesn’t bode well for other big projects if this kind of thing occurs,” Wear said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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