Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TOP STORY >> Lawsuit possible on repairing faulty road project

Leader senior staff writer

The Lonoke City Council on Monday night authorized Mayor Wayne McGee to initiate any action against or with the state Highway Department and/or the contractor, the Rogers Group, to fix a quarter-mile of Palm Street, rendered impassible since shortly after it was resurfaced.

“Let’s give the mayor permission to follow our attorney’s advice,” said council member Pat Howell.

It’s been there 65 years and never been closed, according to Howell, “but it failed three months after Rogers repaired it.”

“That’s Rogers, R-O-G-E-R-S,” said council member Janie Derning, spelling it out during the meeting for the press.

Neither the state nor the Rogers Group seems inclined to help remediate the problem, and, if the city has to do it, the project will likely require a bond issue, according to the mayor.

“Rainy season’s about to start up, and we’ll be in real trouble,” said Alderman Wen-dell Walker.

The state is claiming sovereign immunity, said McGee, but he said the city can’t afford the $200,000 repair, and he asked City Attorney Ginger Stewart to talk with state Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) — the former city attorney — about the way forward.

The whole project, several city blocks, was done for $275,000, according to Howell, and now contractors want $200,000 to repair a fraction of that.

The mayor said the city going in and tearing out four blocks of asphalt to do it right would cost between $180,000 and $200,000. “That would be our paving budget for the next two to three years,” he said.

Something needs to be done, as portions of the city have been closed because it is so spongy that vehicles are bottoming out, he noted.

“It started falling apart two days after it was finished,” the mayor said.

He said the state, through a highway tax, had about $250,000 for milling and asphalting streets in Lonoke.

“The Highway Department came out, looked at our suggested street list, made the decision, hired the contractor and had inspectors out. Once they picked the streets, we had no say in the matter,” McGee explained.

Most of the overlay work the Rogers Group did in the city is fine, but, on Palm Street, the company had to mill down the road, build it back up and then asphalt it. “I’m not a paving guy, but I think it would be common sense to take a core sample before starting that kind of work to see how far into the base you have to go,” McGee said.

They cut the asphalt too low, to the gravel, the mayor said.

The Rogers Group operates in nine states throughout the Midwest and Southeast, offering crushed stone, sand and gravel, asphalt paving and road and bridge construction. It is headquartered in Nashville but has branches in Conway and Cabot.

In other business, the Lonoke Water Department, which lost as much as 40 percent of the water running through its pipes earlier this year, has made a lot of repairs and cut losses last month to about 19 percent, or 4 million gallons, according to Jim Kelley, water and waste water supervisor.

Typically, between 12 percent and 30 percent of water is lost through leaks and bad tracking caused by old or inefficient metering, Kelly said on Tuesday night after the meeting.

Lonoke lost 27.8 million gallons of water through the first quarter of 2015, according to former Public Works Director, the late Ron Gosnell.

“Some of those pipes are 100 years old,” Kelly said. And, during times of drought, the ground gets really hard and pipes can break.

His department repaired 34 leaks in September. “You can’t schedule leaks,” Kelly said.

He said a two-inch line near Dismukes broke earlier this year, and, before it was repaired, may have lost a million gallons. Kelley said his crew has run a continuous line there now, with no joints.

He said he was also working out a schedule for replacing water meters at residences and businesses. He said many are getting old and they have only about a 10- or 15-year life. Buying and replacing meters is expensive, he said, and will have to be done over a period of years.

He also reported that the Valero Pump Station repair was complete.

The council authorized him to contract with L and R to patch 24 cracks at the water department’s clarifier for $7,900, with a one-year warrantee. The whole clarifier could have been sealed for about $47,000, but that would have required advertising for bids. The city will consider that next year, the council said.

Ransom was authorized to spend $1,200 to overhaul the engine of the city’s leaf truck and to buy new tracks for the track hoe.

Also at the meeting, Randy Phillips reported that he expected to be finished tearing down the old Pet Quarters building on city property by the first of the year. He reminded those who said he was working too slow that he was doing the job for $100 and materials and that he was saving the city $180,000.

“I work seven days a week,” he said, “and I have to make a living.”

Jim Douglass, the city’s garbage pickup contractor, said he had intended to end his contract for solid waste disposal, but — on his way to the meeting — his wife talked him out of it, and he agreed to sign a new contract.

The city accepted an offer from the state’s Correction Department to bring 27 inmates in to clean ditches for the cost of a lunch each, for as long as needed, beginning after Nov. 1.

Acting Police Chief Randy Mauk asked for and received permission for the current K-9 officer to take his patrol car home — nine miles out of town — so he can take a dog directly where it’s needed during off-duty hours instead of driving in to the police department, moving the dog into a patrol car and then proceeding to the scene.

A prohibition still stands against officers out of town taking a squad car home.

Details still need to be worked out, but council members seemed interested in allowing residents to keep up to six chickens in their back yard, as long as they are far enough from neighboring houses, in a secure chicken coop with 3 square feet per chicken and the owner has a fenced yard.

Stewart, the city attorney, will prepare several ordinances for aldermen to choose from at the November meeting. There will also be some sort of provisions for city schools to raise chickens. No commercial ventures will be allowed, nor roosters, guinea chickens, ducks or geese.

Parks Supervisor Roy Lewis reported that the fourth City Park ballfield was pretty much complete, with drainage issues around the edges yet to be resolved.

In the city’s ongoing effort to get property owners to clean up, repair or demolish derelict houses, a house at 214 E. 11 was condemned and the city will demolish an already condemned house at 120 Sharon St., where repeated efforts to locate the owner have failed.

The council accepted the gift of an old Craftsman-style house from which Dr. B.E. Holmes ran his medical clinic at 305 W. Front St.

The city agreed to certain conditions and the house was sold as is.