The status of plans to replace a culvert that caused sinkholes on property in the J.C. Faw estate along U.S. 421 West were reviewed in a Wilkesboro Town Council work session Monday morning.

The council also heard about a private developer’s interest in purchasing commercial property in Faw’s estate adjacent to commercial acreage with sinkholes.

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said Wilkesboro is still waiting for the N.C. Department of Transportation to start installing several hundred feet of new culvert under and along U.S. 421 before the town starts installing its connecting portion of the new culvert on property in the estate of the late J.C. Faw.

Noland said that Mike Pettyjohn, Division 11 engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, told him funding for the state’s portion of the replacement culvert is “already there for this work.” He said Pettyjohn doesn’t have permission to proceed, but he expects contractor bids for the DOT portion to be sought after the new year and to award a bid in the spring.

“We’ll release our bid package at the same time” as the DOT. “We want to do them both together. We can’t build a pipe to nowhere,” said Noland.

Councilman Gary Johnson, in his last work session after losing a re-election bid on Nov. 5, asked Noland if Pettyjohn could come to a council meeting and share the project timeline in public.

“I got asked during the elections, ‘What are you doing out there?’ and I don’t think we’ve ever made that totally public,” said Johnson.

“We’ve discussed this in closed sessions. I’d like to hear the public question the DOT and let them know it’s not this board holding anything back. We’ve been held accountable for years now on this project, and it’s not been fair to anyone here.”

Noland replied, “I think I gave you what Pettyjohn knows. Right now, we’re talking about it in public. As I’ve stated in the past, it’s really not our responsibility to build this pipework. Our responsibility is to protect the life safety of the public.”

Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore interjected, “I think the public needs to hear that we’re waiting on DOT. We’re doing somebody a big favor” by assuming the culvert project.

The DOT-funded section, undertaken as part of converting U.S. 421 West to a superstreet, is expected to cost at least $1 million. In June, Noland estimated the cost of Wilkesboro’s portion at $1 to $1.5 million.

The DOT section of culvert will begin on the south side of U.S. 421, pass beneath U.S. 421 near the culvert it replaces and connect with a concrete box on the north side near the Winkler Mill Road-U.S. 421 intersection.

From there it will go west along the north side of U.S. 421 to connect with the town’s new section of culvert at another concrete box. The town’s section will continue westward through a parking lot with large basins to collect storm water.

Potential sale of property

Noland also talked about the potential sale of parcels in the J.C. Faw estate that are immediately west of Winkler Mill Shopping Center parcels in the Faw estate that are plagued with unrepaired sinkholes.

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said a developer, whose name he didn’t disclose, made an offer to buy the six-acre Big Lots parcel and the Burlington Shoes parcel (.84 of an acre). Noland said the developer made a separate offer to buy a parking lot (.75 of an acre) contiguous to the east side of the Burlington Shoes parcel.

The Big Lots parcel is at 1828 Winkler Street and the Burlington Shoes parcel is at 1806 Winkler Street. The Burlington Shoes building includes Monte de Rey Mexican restaurant.

He said the developer is also interested in buying property in the Faw estate west of these parcels.

Under an April 11 consent judgment in Wilkes Superior Court, money from the sale of this and certain other property in the Faw estate must go in an escrow account to reimburse the Town of Wilkesboro’s costs of replacing the collapsed culvert that caused the sinkholes, plus related costs. The court decision included declaring the property with sinkholes a public nuisance and gave the town authority to make the repairs.

Noland said $250,000 is in the escrow account from the sale of Faw properties in Wilkesboro or its extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction so far.

Noland said that when he receives Town Attorney John Willardson’s bills for his legal services related to the sinkholes, he’ll submit a record of the town’s expenses for a reimbursement check. Attorney John Logsdon, executor of the Faw estate, “said the money’s waiting on us,” he added.

Noland said the Faw estate still owes Wilkesboro over $50,000 in back taxes but the town will get this as Faw properties with delinquent tax bills are sold. “We expect the first sale to be Burlington Shoes (building) west, and that’ll clean up a portion of the taxes.”

Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore replied, “I just hope that what you said is not famous last words. Because I think this whole board is irritated about the taxes that have always been in arrears…. It’s been an ongoing saga that continues after Mr. Faw has died.”

Noland said two car dealerships on U.S. 421 West in the Faw estate, Empire Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Empire Chevrolet Buick, are in the process of being sold. He said much of Faw estate should be sold by February or March. Empire Chevrolet has a total tax value of $3.96 million, and Empire Chrysler is valued at $1.68 million.

“It’s been a long saga, and there’s frayed edges, but you’re on the short ropes now,” Noland added. “As these properties sell in Wilkesboro, we’ll see those dollars, too.”

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