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Shields being installed to protect Duke towers from droppings

Expansion planned at Wilkesboro wastewater treatment plant

The Wilkesboro Town Council on Monday night hired a Charlotte-based engineering firm to create a preliminary report on alternatives for increasing capacity at the town’s Cub Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The terms with HDR Engineering Inc. of the Carolinas call for the firm to complete the report in 180 days and be paid no more than $202,700. This could be reimbursed later if the town is approved for project financing through the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program.

Wilkesboro officials expect to spend over $15 million on upgrading the wastewater treatment plant to meet increased demand from the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex, said Town Manager Ken Noland.

The upgrades would double the plant’s capacity, said Sam Call, the town’s director of public works.

David Saunders, HDR vice president and Winston-Salem office manager, said the first goal of the study is “to provide immediate relief to the flow exceedances that are occurring at the wastewater plant.” He said at least three wastewater processes will be identified and HDR will help pick one to pursue.

“Needless to say, we need to plan for our future, and I think we’re at a point where we have to do that now out of a sense of urgency,” said Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore.

“And we need it yesterday, so we’re going to plow forward real fast,” said Noland during a Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting Friday.

Noland explained during the EDC meeting that the good news is that the Tyson complex “is running hot, but the bad news is that they are at their capacity and we are at our capacity” for wastewater treatment.

Noland said Wilkesboro officials already communicated the town’s wastewater needs with state officials, who verbally communicated that gallons of wastewater treated at the town plant can be increased as much as town officials want, “but what we’re putting into the (Yadkin) River now is what we’ll be putting in later.”

Noland said this means, for example, that there can be no increase in the biological oxygen demand (BOD) of treated wastewater released into the Yadkin River, regardless of the number of gallons of treated wastewater. BOD is the amount of oxygen required in stream water to break down organic substances like fecal matter, fats, greases and food particles. High BOD levels can deplete oxygen in stream water to the point that it kills aquatic life.

It also means that there can be no increase in total suspended solids and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Noland said Wilkesboro needs more advanced wastewater treatment plant technology to accomplish the limits on what it releases into the Yadkin. “It’s going to be very difficult to do and also very expensive because when you’re doing this you’re probably dealing with cutting edge technology that costs more.”

He said Wilkesboro officials determined that expanding wastewater treatment capacity is a higher need than improving the town’s water filtration plant, despite extensive time and effort spent in recent years on expanding the amount of water available for human consumption.

“We may slow down the water (filtration) plant project some,” but design plans for water processing improvements at the filtration plant are nearly ready to be send to the state as part of a loan application, said Noland.

Downtown housing

The council approved an amendment to the town zoning code allowing conditional use of condominiums, multi-family dwellings and townhouses in the downtown Central Business District (B1) after no one commented on this during a public hearing Monday night.

The code cites a goal of encouraging “a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented” Central Business District “intended to accommodate a wide range of uses, including retail, office, service and institutional, as well as residential uses on floors above street level.”

Council members agreed when Inscore called the zoning code amendment “a positive step in the right direction.”


Also Monday night, the council approved a 90-day moratorium on all new billboard applications to give council members the opportunity to consider modifications to portions of the town’s sign code applying to billboards.

The council also called for a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 5 on amending the town’s sign code to delete a section pertaining to billboards and implement a new section removing billboards from the zoning code.

Asphalt plants

The council approved a 60-day moratorium on issuance of any permits related to asphalt and/or concrete plants to allow council members time to consider and adopt additional regulations related to those facilities.

There are no asphalt plants in Wilkesboro, but a spokesman for West Jefferson-based Tri-County Paving said the company would consider building one in Wilkesboro during a North Wilkesboro Planning Board meeting on its request for rezoning land on Brickyard Road to allow an asphalt plant. The North Wilkesboro commissioners denied the rezoning request.

The council also set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 5 on amending Wilkesboro’s zoning code to make asphalt and/or concrete plants a conditional use in M1 (industrial) zones.

Other matters

Also Monday night, the council:

• approved a one-year lease agreement with Duke Energy letting the company store vehicles and equipment on grounds of the town’s compost center off Winkler Mill Road Extension;

• hired Atlanta, Ga.-based Mauldin & Jenkins to conduct audits for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years at an annual rate of $25,000. This will be the firm’s first work for Wilkesboro;

• approved the appointment of Abbie Hanchey, co-owner of the Leatherwood Mountains resort on Elk Creek-Darby Road in Ferguson, to a three-year term on the Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority.

Officials face worsening storm water problems

Flooding and other storm water-related problems in the Wilkesboros are worsening, say local business and government officials.

Aging drainage systems and increasing severity and frequency of heavy rain have been cited in local discussions of these issues.

Recent heavy rain events caused storm water flooding at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex and at least one new sinkhole in Wilkesboro, said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting Friday.

“Tyson had to shut down their plant three times in the last month over flooding into their facility, primarily because of a worn out and inadequate storm drain system on Main Street” and storm water volume exceeding its capacity, said Noland.

“We’re working with Tyson to see if we can’t help them manage this right now…. The state really doesn’t have the ability to go out and do storm water work right now. Their hands have been tied to not spend on anything.”

Storm water unable to drain off during heavy rain events has flooded the portion of River Street in front of the Tyson Foods processing complex in the recent past. Motorists attempting to drive through it have had to be rescued by emergency personnel when their vehicles stalled out.

Wilkesboro’s sinkholes

Also at the EDC board meeting, Noland gave an update on plans for repairing a sinkhole that has received extensive publicity and announced the recent appearance of a large sinkhole on another end of town. Both are the result of collapsed culverts unable to carry storm water.

He said the N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting bids for the state’s portion of a new storm water culvert system planned to address sinkholes on and near the Taco Bell restaurant property at the intersection of U.S. 421 and Winkler Mill Road.

Noland said that if the DOT receives a bid within budget, the state could approve a contract within 30 days. “We just hope we can get all that work done within a year or so.”

Division 11 Engineer Mike Pettyjohn said recently that after bids submitted late this winter for the DOT work came in well above an engineer’s estimate, geotechnical borings were conducted and plans were revised to help eliminate unknown risk for the bidders. Re-advertising for new bids was delayed due to DOT budget shortfalls.

About three years ago, a section of storm water culvert installed several decades earlier beneath what later was the Taco Bell parking lot collapsed, blocking storm water and leading to sinkholes in the parking lots of Taco Bell and nearby Winkler Mill Shopping Center. The property is owned by the J.C. Faw estate, which is funding the town’s work to address the sinkholes under a court order.

Noland said another sinkhole of the same caliber recently appeared along School Street, near the entrance to Wilkesboro Elementary School and across from the Wilkesboro Civic Center.

“It’s 30 to 35 feet deep. We basically took an entire lot and cleared it. We’re at the bottom of it and found some obstruction in the pipe. We’re in the process of getting the obstruction out and rebuilding that portion of the pipe.”

Town personnel used heavy equipment to dig out the site of the failed culvert and sinkhole, resulting in a huge conical crater that will be filled in when repairs are completed.

In North Wilkesboro

The North Wilkesboro commissioners were asked to address repeated flooding of 10th Street buildings from storm water runoff during the public comments portion of their Sept. 8 meeting.

Callie Walker, a local Realtor who manages rental properties on 10th Street, said the entire 10th Street block experienced extreme flooding after heavy rain recently, referring to mid-August. “We need a long-term solution to this problem,” she said. “I believe the problem lies in the (storm water) drainage system.”

Wilkes Hardware owner Richard Scercy said, “I’m worried about my business and everybody’s businesses on 10th Street. As a business owner, I’m pleading with y’all to find some solution down the road.”

Valery Guevara, owner of Bliss Hair & Nail Salon on 10th Street, called the flooding a “huge inconvenience and a danger to our clients. Every year it’s getting worse and worse. I would like you guys to help us with this.”

Dale Shumate, North Wilkesboro director of public works, said the town put dye in storm drains recently and discovered a clogged pipe that apparently led to the recent flooding. He said a company hired by the town unclogged the end of the pipe with an excavator last week was so it will drain better.

Shumate noted that the clogged culvert is owned and maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, “but it’s just easier for us to get it done. We can’t wait around for another heavy rain.”

Commissioner Michael Parsons asked if the town could install a short-term diversion wall protecting businesses along 10th and D streets from storm water runoff until a permanent solution is found.

Town Manager Wilson Hooper said a diversion wall would be an expensive option and couldn’t be implemented right away. “We’d have to bring that into our budget process,” he added.

Shumate said the pipe being unclogged will help more than any temporary fix.

Mayor Robert Johnson assured the flood victims, “We are trying to work on finding a solution. We’ll keep digging and scratching.”

The Copper Barrel Distillery gift shop on East Main Street, North Wilkesboro was flooded when a storm water drain was clogged during a recent heavy rainstorm, said George Smith, Copper Barrel president and CEO, during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. meeting Friday.

The gift shop had to be closed for about a day and a half, said Smith, who is on the EDC board. He said it was the second time this has happened, even though the storm water drain is checked daily.

Wilkesboro High’s last football season capped a dynasty

Event helps keep inspiration from 9/11 alive

Team Red, White & Blue's 9/11 Moving Tribute has its ceremonial start Friday morning at the Window World headquarters in North Wilkesboro on Shaver Street.

A 9.11-mile walk and run through North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro Friday morning honored victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

North Wilkesboro-based Window World organized and hosted Team Red, White & Blue’s 9/11 Moving Tribute through the Wilkesboros. Dozens of people ran or walked on all or part of the route, which began with a ceremony at the Window World corporate office parking lot on Shaver Street.

“It’s incredibly important to not only remember the evil (of 9/11) and the attacks that have happened so few times in our history, but also the incredible bravery we saw in response to those attacks,” said Mike Erwin, Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) founder and director, during the ceremony.

“We’ve got to look to and find those sources of inspiration, and I can think of few better than all those examples of valor and bravery we saw that day,” said Erwin.

He also thanked Window World for being Team RWB’s partner in the effort. Erwin served as a U.S. military intelligence officer during three combat tours and earned two Bronze Star medals.

Team RWB is a non-profit that works to enrich the lives of veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activity. There are about 200,000 members and about 2,000 volunteer leaders in RWB chapters in hundreds of communities nationwide. RWB was founded in 2010.

The 9.11-mile walk and run went from near the former North Wilkesboro Elks Lodge on Finley Avenue to Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, where flag-bearers joined for two laps around the lower campus. It pivoted at WCC and ended at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons in downtown Wilkesboro.

U.S. and other flags were carried in remembrance of the events and impact of Sept. 11, 2001. Four passenger airliners were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists that day after leaving airports in the northeastern U.S. Two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center complex in New York City and a third airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth airliner crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers thwarted the hijackers.

Across the nation Friday, thousands of military veterans and supporters carried American flags thousands of miles through their communities as a tribute to the 9/11 victims. Over 25 Window World franchises across the country joined Team Red, White & Blue to host in-person and virtual tributes.

Window World board member Jamie McBride welcomed participants and Tammy Whitworth, Window World chairman and CEO, led the invocation during the ceremony in the Window World parking lot. Window World staff, veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters and others gathered there.

The U.S. flag was unfurled and hoisted by the North Wilkesboro-based VFW Post 1142 Honor Guard. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem was sung by Lacey Shrader, a student at Wilkes Central High School. She later played “Taps” on the bugle and sang “God Bless America.”

Erwin called the 9/11 Tribute in the Wilkesboros the national flagship event.

He also said he was proud and thankful for the support of Window World and its Military Initiative. With the initiative, veterans, active service members and their families are supported through various charitable endeavors.

This includes the Veterans Airlift Command, which offers free air transportation to wounded veterans and their families. As a member of that network, Window World’s corporate jet has provided transportation for over 115 missions, transporting 360 people around the country.

Erwin, Whitworth and about 10 others carried U.S. and other flags as they ran or walked from the Elks Lodge down Sixth Street, through downtown North Wilkesboro and across Wilkesboro Boulevard. They turned right down Main Street to Wilkes Community College before heading back to downtown Wilkesboro at the Community Commons.

North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro police escorted the 9/11 Moving Tribute. A North Wilkesboro ladder fire truck displayed a giant U.S. flag at the opening ceremony and a Wilkesboro ladder fire truck did the same near the Wilkes Heritage Museum.

Erwin concluded, “I’m really excited about the source of inspiration that can radiate from this community all throughout the country today as people draw the inspiration that comes from seeing people do simple things on such an important day.”

Challenges of learning in a pandemic addressed

Some of the challenges of the combination of learning remotely and in classrooms, underway in the Wilkes County Schools since Sept. 8, were raised during the Wilkes Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Dr. Donna Cotton, director of instruction for the Wilkes schools, reviewed expectations of teachers and students under this learning plan (Plan B), which the school system has used since Sept. 8.

The majority of Wilkes students are engaged in Plan B, which means alternating between learning in classrooms and remotely at home each school day. About 25% of the students opted to work remotely each day for the first nine weeks.

Cotton said attendance expectations are the same for students each day. If teachers don’t hear from a student for three days, someone from the school system will go check on the child.

School board member Sharron Huffman asked Cotton how a teacher knows whether to mark a student present or absent on a day the student works remotely at home if the teacher has no online or other communication with the student that day.

Cotton said that on days with no communication between a teacher and a student, “there probably is an assignment for the student to do” and the teacher will know to mark the student present on that day if this work is completed.

Huffman added, ‘Some teachers are collecting work (done during remote learning) like every two weeks. How do they keep up with it (attendance) then?”

Cotton responded, “I think that would be very difficult” but teachers can do this based on knowing when different assignments were due during periods as long as two weeks. “But I think it would be very hard for teachers to do that”

She said this might be something that should be discussed with principals.

School board member Joan Caudill she has heard complaints about differences in the amount of contact between teachers and students engaged in remote learning.

Caudill said cited the remote learning experiences of two children in the same local family. She said one child has contact three times a day with his/her teacher, while the other child only has this once a week.

“I think there’s quite a variance going on,” said Caudill.

Cotton said, “We can work on that. I appreciate hearing those comments.” She said that type of input helps her communicate more effectively with principals, who in turn work with teachers.

School board member Hardin Kennedy asked Cotton to confirm that parents should first contact officials at the schools their student attend if they have concerns about aspects of remote learning or other recent changes.

“It takes everybody to make this new thing work out,” said Kennedy.

Cotton responded, “We are still definitely riding that bike with training wheels. We are figuring it out. We have not made it perfect yet and if somebody has I would sure like to talk to them.”

Wilkes Board of Education Chairman Rudy Holbrook then recognized Clint Cheek, father of a 5-year-old at C.B. Eller Elementary and two younger children, to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Cheek said his concerns were related to the points raised by Caudill and Huffman.

Cheek said the stress of trying to learn remotely at home alternating with the stress of COVID-19 precautions at school is getting worse each day for his oldest son and his wife, who is a stay-at-home wife.

He said young children have trouble grasping new restrictions in the schools and his son feels like he has done something wrong. Cheek said it has gotten to the point where the emotional trauma has made his son notx want go back to school.

He said one of his friends has a young daughter who is experiencing the same thing.

However, he said, learning remotely on a computer is especially challenging for young children.

“Every day when I come home from work, it seems like the stress load just gets more and more stress,” said Cheek, who works from 75 to 90 hours a week driving a tractor-trailer loaded with logs.

He said this experience in the pandemic could result in a learning gap with long-term consequences.

Cheek asked the school board and other Wilkes school officials what they are going to do about this difficult situation for families with young children.