Exploratory digging is underway to determine how best to address sinkholes caused by a collapsed drainage culvert system on the Taco Bell and nearby Winkler Mill Shopping Center properties along U.S. 421 West in western Wilkesboro.
Town Manager Ken Noland said excavation being done by town crews with town equipment is gathering information for bid packages being prepared by North Wilkesboro-based Blue Ridge Engineering for contractors interested in submitting bids for repairing the collapsed culvert system.
The excavation work is focused on finding a junction box where two six-foot pipes were welded together, said Noland earlier in May.
He said the culvert appears to be stable uphill from the junction box. “Not that the pipe is in great shape, but we shouldn’t have any ruptures” above the junction box. “We don’t really know for sure, but we’re learning things.”
Noland, speaking to the town council during a work session Monday morning, said town and N.C. Department of Transportation officials met last week on the work site to “make sure we are all on the same page for design issues and bid timing.”
Bob Urness, Wilkesboro finance director and assistant town manager, told the council that town staff members are itemizing all town costs incurred to date on the sinkhole situation, including the exploratory digging. Urness said the costs began with efforts to control street flooding due to the collapsed culvert in mid-2017. Costs so far exceed $100,000, he added.
Under a consent judgment issued by Resident Superior Court Judge Michael D. Duncan in April, the estate of the late J.C. Faw and Wisco Development (Faw’s company) must reimburse the town for any liabilities, losses or costs it incurs from remedying the sinkhole problems beyond what is covered by the town’s insurance. The sinkholes and collapsed culvert are on parcels totaling 7.86 acres owned by the Faw estate and Wisco.
The consent judgment declared the property a public nuisance and gave the town authority to carry out whatever work is needed there to remedy the situation.
Noland noted that due to doing this work, the town’s public works department hasn’t been able to address other town projects. “We expect to be able to get back to other projects in the next week or so as we wrap up the exploratory work,” he said.
The newest sinkhole appeared April 25 in the parking lot west of the Taco Bell property. To protect the public, the town installed permanent fencing and closed portions of the parking lot serving Monte De Rey restaurant and Tractor Supply. The town built a new paved road to provide access to that area while repairs are made.
Noland said in April that town officials aren’t sure about the stability of any drainage culverts beneath the parking lot.
Town officials met with the Keith Corp., owner of the Tractor Supply store, in April about participating in the town’s court agreement with the owner of the parking lot property for repairing the culvert system. Faw’s estate offered to cover all engineering costs incurred by Keith Corp., said Noland.
Noland said the drainage culvert in question extends under the Burlington Shoes and Tractor Supply buildings. “There’s a lot of mess up there,” he said, adding that blockage in the pipes leads to formation of the sinkholes.
Noland explained earlier that the key to stopping the “domino effect” of sinkhole formations is fixing the pipe. “Keith Corp. sees that, and they want to get it fixed. They’re just trying to determine how far up their property they should go.”
John Logsdon, an attorney in North Wilkesboro, was appointed receiver of 96 parcels owned by Faw, collectively valued at $15 million to $20 million. The parcels are being sold or auctioned off to reimburse any costs incurred by the town in remedying the public nuisance and also to “protect the rights of all of Faw’s creditors.”
Iron Horse Auction Co. is auctioning off properties in the estate in phases, with the first auction sale scheduled June 20-27. The next two are in July and August. Properties for sale are listed on the company’s website at ironhorseauction.com.
The consent judgment also awarded the town a lien on the Taco Bell and other parcels deemed a nuisance, as well as on all other parcels owned by Faw or Wisco in Wilkesboro or within one mile of the city limits. This means they can be ordered sold to reimburse whatever expense the town incurs from work needed to remedy the nuisance.
Other project updates
Also during the work session Monday, Noland said the town’s Browns Ford Loop waterline project is “slowly moving forward.” He said it now appears that the boring subcontractor didn’t make contact with a 16-inch force main sewer line in May as was feared.
Florida-based Boremasters Inc. is attempting to do an “end around” the drill bit of a directional bore stuck in rock beneath Moravian Creek when it struck something that turned out not to be sewer line.
Noland said that due to close proximity of water and sewer lines, the town hired a company to bring in a ground-penetrating radar to help map the area in question. The improved map will allow Boremasters to better define its path back into the existing bore hole while not impacting the existing force main, he said.
The town hopes to finish the long-delayed waterline project this month, as stipulated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which provided a $700,000 grant for the project. Progress was halted for several months due to the $25,000 drill bit being encased in rock and unable to budge just downstream from the N.C. 268 bridge over Moravian Creek.
Noland said the town’s 500,000-gallon aboveground water tank near U.S. 421 and Browns Ford Road is now filled with water, allowing the town to close out that portion of the project contract.
He said a new clarifier at the town’s wastewater treatment plant is about two months from being put into service. He reported there is some concrete grout work and minor piping to be completed.
Once the unit is put into service, the contractor will install security cameras and fencing. The project was expected to be completed this month, but after delays caused by a couple of large rain events, the contract schedule had to be adjusted, said Noland.