In mid-June, Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said town officials hoped to seek contractor bids by the end of the summer for installing several hundred feet of culvert to remedy sinkholes on the Taco Bell and nearby property along U.S. 421 West.

With that timeline, said Noland, “by next summer we hope this will be behind us and just a distant memory.”

This week, he said the start of the culvert’s installation has been pushed back until spring because the N.C. Department of Transportation’s installation of a connecting culvert has been delayed. “We can’t build ours without theirs. It would be like building a pipe system to nowhere,” explained Noland.

DOT timing unclear

Mike Pettyjohn, division engineer for North Wilkesboro-based DOT Division 11, this week said that due to a DOT budget shortfall, he doesn’t know when installation of the state’s section of culvert might start. Pettyjohn said he would like to start in the spring.

The DOT’s section of new 66-inch culvert will begin on the south side of U.S. 421 where storm water and a small branch will be released. The new culvert will pass beneath U.S. 421 via a bored tunnel near the culvert it replaces and connect with a concrete box on the north side of U.S. 421 near the Winkler Mill Road 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 stormwater.

Pettyjohn said the DOT-funded section, undertaken as part of converting U.S. 421 West to a “superstreet” in Wilkesboro’s retail corridor, will cost at least $1 million. In June, Noland estimated the cost of Wilkesboro’s portion at between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Both sections will be put out for bids from private contractors.

Pettyjohn said the DOT’s new section of culvert to connect with the town’s section has a more advanced schedule than the superstreet project, which was recently delayed by a year due to the DOT budget shortfall and will now start in 2022.

Noland said the engineering firm for the town’s section of culvert, North Wilkesboro-based Blue Ridge Engineering, has nearly completed documents needed to put that project out for bids.

Funding town’s portion

Resident Superior Court Judge Michael D. Duncan signed a consent judgment in April declaring the Taco Bell and six nearby parcels in Winkler Mill shopping strip a public nuisance due to storm water runoff and other sinkhole-related problems and gave the Town of Wilkesboro authority to make needed repairs to the property, totaling 13.69 acres. The parcels are in the estate of Wilkesboro businessman J.C. Faw, who died in February.

The consent judgment came after the town sued Faw in January after about two years of worsening problems with the sinkholes and defective storm water drainage system, including water a few inches deep washing across U.S. 421 and Winkler Mill Road in heavy rain events.

Duncan also named John Logsdon, an attorney in North Wilkesboro, receiver for properties in Faw’s estate to maximize their value while selling them to reimburse costs incurred by the town in remedying the public nuisance and to also “protect the rights of all of Faw’s creditors.”

The judgment awarded the town a lien on the seven nuisance parcels and all other parcels in Faw’s estate in Wilkesboro and up to a mile beyond town limits. Logsdon said this meant selling these parcels at public auction to the highest bidder could be required to recover the town’s costs from remedying the nuisance conditions of the seven parcels.

Under N.C. statutes, he added, the lien arises only after the town abates or remedies the nuisance condition, which he said means Wilkesboro must incur the cost of correcting the nuisance conditions of the seven parcels before the town can be reimbursed.

Logsdon said that under state law, the town would have first claim to proceeds from the sale of the seven nuisance properties. He said pre-existing deeds of trust are ahead of the town in receiving proceeds from the sale of other parcels in Faw’s estate in town or up to one mile beyond town limits.

Logsdon said only about $30,000 is still unclaimed by creditors from the sale of parcels within Wilkesboro or up to a mile beyond town limits since the consent judgment was signed due to pre-existing deeds of trust.

The judgment gave the town the option of doing the work on the nuisance parcels with town personnel or seeking bids from contractors, plus it doesn’t require that the town do anything there.

Noland: Town has a limit

Concerning the cost of installing the replacement culvert and the town’s other expenses with the nuisance parcels, Noland said, “We’re fronting the money, which would come from our general reserves, but we’ve stressed to the receivership (Logsdon) that the town can’t afford to be extended too much…. We made it very clear that we’re only extending ourselves so far.”

Wilkesboro can’t afford to front $1 million to $1.5 million making necessary repairs, he added.

Noland said he knows Logsdon believes the town must front the entire amount and added that town officials requested another meeting about the matter with Logsdon and Wilkesboro Town Attorney John Willardson present.

Wilkesboro has spent about $150,000 so far on onsite work to determine repairs needed, installing chain-link fencing and steps to prevent storm water runoff from reaching Winkler Mill Road and U.S. 421, but the town hasn’t been reimbursed anything yet. “That’s not really a big issue because they’re selling properties and we expect to be paid back in a few weeks,” said Noland.

The delay resulting from the DOT’s budget shortfall allows more time for money to be raised for remedying the nuisance on the seven parcels, he added.

“But if we’re sitting here next spring and they haven’t sold anything, we can’t move forward because we wouldn’t have the money…. We don’t want to get caught holding the bag because in the end, it’s taxpayer money.”

In addition to the Taco Bell and Winkler Mill strip parcels declared a nuisance, the property in town or up to a mile beyond town limits in Faw’s estate includes 8.78 acres (seven lots) near Kennedy Street, the Chrysler dealership property on U.S. 421, commercial property along Oakwoods Road and numerous residential lots.

Ninety-six parcels in Faw’s estate in multiple N.C. counties and Southwest Virginia, valued by Logsdon at $15 million to $20 million, are for sale.

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