CabAire says it was forced to remove electric towers from Derricks truck stop
SALISBURY — The company that installed 25 electrification towers at the former Derrick’s Travel Plaza says it was forced to remove the $760,000 project — largely funded by public dollars — when a Wilmington company sold the truck stop in November.
CabAire wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to the Centralina Council of Governments that Derrick’s owner Worsley, a subsidiary of Wilmington-based VPS Convenience Store Group, forced CabAire to remove the towers by Nov. 6, just two years into a seven-year agreement.
Worsley sold Derrick’s at the Peeler Road exit in November to Love’s Travel Stops. Love’s, which plans to demolish Derrick’s and build a new 10,000-square-foot truck stop, required removal of the anti-idling towers, John Fahy, CabAire’s director of operations, wrote in the letter to Centralina.
Worsley demanded that CabAire remove the equipment and threatened to hold the company liable if the truck stop sale did not go through, Fahy said.
CabAire pulled the towers on the advice of an attorney and put a lien on the property, Fahy said.
“In short, both CabAire and Centralina have been victimized by Worsley,” he wrote.
Centralina isn’t buying it.
The electrification towers, which offered truck drivers an alternative to running their diesel engines all night long, were supposed to improve air quality in Rowan County. Centralina landed a $400,000 federal grant to help pay for the project.
Pomp and circumstance surrounded both the grant announcement in 2004 and the installation of the towers six years later. The project was supposed to improve air quality by encouraging truck drivers to shut down their engines overnight and plug into an electric tower instead.
It was one of the largest air-quality improvement projects in Rowan and made up 60 percent of Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality funding for Rowan and Cabarrus counties in 2006.
Now, Centralina says CabAire has until Feb. 4 to reimburse the $400,000 grant money.
It’s one of the only times Centralina has had to pursue repayment of federal funds for a project that went awry.
CabAire didn’t do enough to save the tower project, Centralina said.
Centralina is “concerned that we did not see that CabAire attempted to legally enjoin the travel center from removing the equipment or take other legal action to enforce the owner to adhere to the provisions of your lease agreement with it,” wrote Steven Meckler, attorney for Centralina.
CabAire did not notify Centralina about problems with the electrification project or the deteriorating relationship with Worsley before removing the equipment, Meckler said.
CabAire says Worsley terminated the tower project.
CabAire and Worsley signed an agreement in 2008 for truck stop electrification at Derrick’s, the third location in North Carolina to offer the service. Truck drivers pay about the same as they would to idle their engines all night but save wear and tear on their trucks and help the environment.
“However, the project never achieved the results hoped for by either party,” Fahy said.
Worsley did not promote the use of the new equipment, did not maintain easy access to the towers and did not keep the installation secure and free from vandalism, Fahy said.
Jennifer Meyers, spokeswoman for Worsley’s parent company VPS Convenience Store Group, said the company has no comment.
CabAire had to hire people to work at Derrick’s to promote the towers and train truck drivers to use them, Fahy said.
The relationship between CabAire and Worsley continued to deteriorate until July 2012, when Worsley accused CabAire of breaching their agreement, Fahy said.
“The allegations were unfounded and subsequently and appropriately left by Worsley to die on the vine,” he said.
Worsley never paid CabAire the early termination fee as required by the contract, he said.
“Please understand that CabAire tried to discuss a reasonable notice period with Worsley, and it tried to discuss a reasonable timeline and terms for CabAire’s removal of the TSE equipment,” Fahy wrote. “But Worsley would not engage …”
CabAire then learned in October that Worsley had committed to the sale of Derrick’s on terms that required removal of the towers, he said.
Love’s bought the Derrick’s property on Nov. 19 for $1.5 million. The company will not say whether Love’s requested the removal of the towers, if Love’s was consulted about the equipment or whether any language in the sale documents addressed the towers.
Generally, Love’s is not a fan of truck stop electrification.
Spokeswoman Kyla Turner told the Post last month that Love’s has towers at a handful of locations. She called truck stop 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 space. That can create a problem because Love’s has a smaller footprint than other truck stops, offers between 70 and 90 parking spaces, compared to 250, 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.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.