Couple compares culvert construction to war zone

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 9, 2011

By Mark Wineka
GRANITE QUARRY — For much of this year, Danny Gay and his wife, Donna Kauffman, have lived in a war zone — or so it has seemed.
The drawn-out work connected to the building of a new Brookwood Drive culvert, just below their house, has cost them property, taken trees, caked them in mud, made it difficult to drive in and out and been a major inconvenience for months.
During the construction, their mailbox was relocated a considerable distance up the street, along with their trash pick-up spot. At times, they also were forced to park their vehicles on a temporary “pad” at the same far end of their lot, because the driveway was blocked.
They lost cable service on occasion.
The couple still have concerns that the new culvert won’t fix the flooding it was designed to alleviate — flooding that damaged the properties of their neighbors, not theirs. Because a sewage pipe runs through the culvert and over the water, they predict that debris coming down Trexler Creek during heavy rains will catch on the obstacle, create blockage and lead to flooding.
They fear, too, that the angle of the “wings” of the new culvert will sometimes direct a strong surge of water toward the banks bordering the creek, leading to significant erosion on their side.
“They’ve aimed this thing at us,” Gay says.
Out of five property owners directly affected by the project, Gay and Kauffman were the only ones who rejected what the town was willing to pay for right of way. They contended the town’s first offer of $2,158, revised later to $2,727, was too low. They say 4,200 square feet, or roughly 20 percent of their property, was affected by the project.
The case went to mediation, and was heard by a judge Friday, without a decision being made. The couple are representing themselves.
Since construction started in late winter, it has been dogged by delays and problems. Paving of the disrupted section of Brookwood — one of the last tasks — finally occurred Friday.
“The present plan is to open the street on Monday morning,” Town Manager Dan Peters says. “Emergency vehicles will be able to use the street if necessary this evening (Friday).”
In February, the town of Granite Quarry approved a $279,021 bid for the project, awarded to Horsepower Site Services of Charlotte.
The project fell at least 90 days behind schedule, thanks mostly to delays associated with the relocation of a pole and utility lines. For several weeks, the contractor moved off the project to work elsewhere because of the utilities holdup.
The town is financing the Brookwood Drive culvert through a loan of up to $450,000, obtained from F&M Bank at 3.99 percent interest.
Peters says the culvert portion of the loan will be paid back from state Powell Bill funds Granite Quarry receives for street maintenance. Payback will be spread over 15 years.
Part of the loan also will be used to pay for costs associated with a 100,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse proposed off Heilig Road. The town intends to apply for a state grant to fund roughly $1 million of water, sewer and road improvements connected with the Cold Storage LLC project.
If approved, the grant would pay 75 percent of the improvements, while Granite Quarry and Rowan County would share the cost of the 25 percent local match, up to a maximum of $125,000 each.
Peters says a new preliminary floodplain map, factoring in the new culvert, will remove 13 of 26 structures “that are now in the major flood zone.” Their removal will mean those property owners will not have to buy flood insurance, and that can translate to savings for them of $100 to $200 a month, Peters says.
“It’s pretty substantial,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Gay and Kauffman hate what the Brookwood Drive culvert project has taken away. They have lost eight trees, some of which provided a nice screening effect from the street when they sat on their elevated side deck.
With the trees gone, “the sun just blasts you in the summertime,” Kauffman says.
New curb and gutter running up the hill from the new culvert stops abruptly in front of their house, and the front yard also includes two new “pillboxes” over the sewer pipe.
“They said this will improve my curb appeal,” Gay laughs.
The couple contend the contractor has performed as well as could be expected, given all the engineering problems the project faced. But they express frustration that most town board members and Granite Quarry residents haven’t seen this project play out, as they have.
Only Mayor Pro Tem Bill Feather has visited the site to see what they were dealing with first-hand, according to the couple.
Gay compares the whole experience to the government’s asking a citizen for permission to use a small portion of property for use as a bombing range, while promising no collateral damage around it.
Good luck with that, Gay says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.