The Town of Wilkesboro recently received its first reimbursement check from the J.C. Faw estate for expenses related to sinkholes near the Taco Bell restaurant and other commercial properties along U.S. 421 West.
The town received the $197,269 check for costs incurred through the end of December. The sinkholes first started appearing over two years ago on the Taco Bell parcel and in Winkler Mill Shopping Center parking lot, which are owned by the Faw estate.
Under an April 11 consent judgment in Wilkes Superior Court, money from the sale of parcels in the Faw estate goes to an escrow account to reimburse the town’s costs related to maintaining public safety and for replacing a collapsed culvert that caused the sinkholes. Replacement of the culvert has been delayed at least until spring due to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s installation of a connecting culvert being delayed.
“We’re ready to put this (culvert project) out to bid,” said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland during a Wilkesboro Town Council work session Monday morning. “There’s no reason for us to start until the DOT can turn it loose. There’s nowhere to send the water until the DOT can fix the pipe.”
The DOT-funded section, undertaken as part of converting U.S. 421 West to a “superstreet” up to near its intersection with N.C. 16 North, is expected to cost at least $1 million. In June, Noland estimated the cost of Wilkesboro’s portion at $1 million to $1.5 million.
The court decision included declaring the property with sinkholes a public nuisance and gave the town authority to make the repairs. During heavy rain events in 2019, stormwater rushed over U.S. 421 and Winkler Mill Road, creating what the town called public safety issues.
So far this year, said Noland, the town has spent about $20,000 to keep runoff from the sinkhole from entering Winkler Mill Road and U.S. 421 and similar maintenance work. Actual remediation work hasn’t started yet.
“Crews have been keeping a close eye on the Taco Bell drainage problem. We have had a lot of rain that continues to undermine more property,” he said.
On Dec. 2, the council discussed a private developer’s interest in purchasing commercial property in Faw’s estate immediately west of the commercial lots with unrepaired sinkholes.
The unnamed developer was expected to make the first offer on the .84-acre Burlington Shoes property, which includes the Monte de Rey Mexican restaurant. The developer is also interested in the six-acre Big Lots parcel and a three-quarter-acre parking lot contiguous to the east side of the Burlington Shoes parcel, according to Noland.
“In talking to the (Faw) estate, they’ve got a couple of offers on the table, but it’s a negotiation back and forth and hasn’t gotten to closing yet,” said Noland on Monday.
The town also recently received $18,994.21 in 2018-19 back taxes from the Faw estate, which wasn’t associated with the court order. The Faw estate still has an outstanding tax balance of about $32,000, which is by far the town’s largest unpaid tax debt.
School Street pipe
Noland told the council Monday that a 36-inch storm water pipe that goes under School Street near Accurate Auto Service and drains into Moravian Creek needs to be replaced.
“That pipe is bad,” he said. “There’s no bottom to it. It’s a fairly deep pipe—15-plus feet deep. It’s probably an expensive project to replace or rehab it in some fashion.”
Noland said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asking the town for a couple of years to analyze three pipes that drain into the creek to remain compliant with flood control measures enacted in the early 2000s for the flood-prone area at School Street and Wilkesboro Boulevard.
The town’s public works department sent cameras into the pipes recently and discovered the one pipe (near Accurate Auto Service) that had deteriorated from end to end. It hasn’t caused a drainage issue because there is no blockage, noted Noland.
Noland said the town’s video analysis will be sent to the Corps, followed by development of a rehabilitation strategy and schedule for completing the project.
New ABC store
Noland said the DOT granted Wilkesboro a driveway permit where the town is building a new Alcoholic Beverage Control store on town-owned land at the intersection of U.S. 421 and New Browns Ford Road, scheduled for completion in the spring or summer of 2020.
The permit allows a right turn in for traffic on U.S. 421 coming to the store and a right turn out for traffic leaving the store and entering U.S. 421.
The store will also be accessible from a short section of Old Browns Ford Road and the DOT asked that the town maintain this. The council hasn’t yet decided whether to adopt the section of Old Browns Ford Road as a town street.
Grading has started on the new ABC store next to the town’s new 500,000-gallon aboveground water tank, scheduled to be filled after the Browns Ford Loop waterline project is completed.
Noland said Monday that the waterline project is nearly complete. “The above-grade crossing at Moravian Creek is the only item remaining prior to final testing and startup.”
The general contractor, Sanford Construction, should resume site work on Monday, added Noland.