SNOW HILL — With construction stalled, a four-year-old project to elevate three Greene County homes became a topic of discussion at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
Two Greene County commissioners called for action to pressure the firm handling the elevations. Commissioner Susan Blizzard said that construction has yet to start on the houses approved through the 2017 Hazard Migration Grant program due to flooding.
At the commissioners’ April 5 meeting, project engineer Mike Barnett of McDavid Associates of Farmville said that more money would be needed to proceed. Costs for the elevations have gone up since the project was bid in November 2019, he said.
Blizzard presented a series of emails on Monday, starting with Barnett making an informal request for additional funds on Jan. 28. A reply from the N.C. Department of Emergency Managementinformed Barnett that a formal request was needed and listed the needed documentation.
An email from Emergency Management was sent on Feb. 25, asking if the county was interested in proceeding with the process to receive additional funds.
Kathy Mooring, county administrative assistant and deputy clerk to the board, replied on behalf of county manager Kyle DeHaven that the county wanted to proceed, but did not include necessary documentation, Blizzard said.
Some documentation was provided by Barnett on March 10, but as of Monday the department still needed the feasibility studies, per-evaluation statement and construction cost breakdown, Blizzard said, adding this information is essential to the process.
“Without these supporting documents, which must occupy the letter to FEMA, they cannot complete this. I had asked Barnett to have that to Raleigh by April 26,” Blizzard said.
Blizzard also requested at the April 19 commissioners meeting that Barnett meet with the individuals whose homes are being elevated by May 3 to answer their questions. She requested Barnett provide the proper documents to Emergency Management so the county can receive reimbursements from FEMA for the years 2019 and 2020.
At Monday’s meeting, her requests had not been met.
Homeowners waiting for their houses to be elevated also spoke, saying they were scheduled to meet with Barnett on Monday, but he did not show up for the meeting.
“It has been a grueling process. This is not a healthy situation for this to be as prolonged as it is,” said Jimmy Summerville “We can’t get answers. We keep asking same questions each week and keep getting same response.”
“How are we going to McDavid accountable?” Blizzard asked, adding it is probably too late to change engineers for the project.
Commissioner Derek Burress asked county attorney Gay Stanley if the county could put a freeze on McDavid’s payments.
Stanley suggested setting deadlines and making pay contingent on them.
“We just don’t want to get into a refusal to pay,” Stanley said.
Vice Chairman James Shackelford wanted Barnett to attend the board’s next meeting and answer questions before commissioners took this action.
“We need to handle it in a manner that’s professional. If you hire a person to do something you need to find all the reasons out why things are not being done in a professional way,” Shackelford said.
Blizzard disagreed and made a motion to freeze McDavid’s retainer fees and not award the company any more contracts until the elevation project is complete.
Burress seconded the motion pending attorney approval that it was within commissioners’ limits. He said that Barnett already has been given the opportunity to answer many of the commissioners’ questions.
“As far as legality of that there is nothing that I am aware of that would make it illegal. If there is a contract out there, I would like to review that. There is no reason in any statue or common law that the board can’t take such action,” Stanley said.
The motion failed 3-2 with Shackelford, Chairman Bennie Heath and Commissioner Jerry Jones in opposition.
“I do not feel … punitive actions accomplish a whole lot until we get some answers from them. We don’t know if we have contracts or not,” Heath said.
“I understand your passion, but by the same token I really think we should give the attorney time to see if we do have a contract we’re dealing with,” he said. “Give (McDavid) until the next meeting to give their appeal and their response as to why all this is going on and then go from there.”