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Manteo Dredging Dispute at Impasse

Reprinted from the Outer Banks Sentinel

MANTEO — As Manteo officials await a report on an investigation by the State Auditor’s office related to a recent Doughs Creek dredge project, the town has yet to resolve a separate dispute with the dredging contractor stemming from the company hauling away 71 truckloads of dredge material from the town’s disposal site.

According to a reverse change order by the Manteo Board of Commissioners, the town is seeking reimbursement from Powells Point contractor Carolina Marine Structures for $15,247.25 for the dredge material that the town contends the contractor was not authorized to remove.

“Our primary concern is to be made whole again from a financial perspective,” said Town Manager Kermit Skinner. “It has value to the town.”

Festival Park, the Elizabeth II’s mooring and the Doughs Creek Channel. Photo: Quible & Associates

The town signed a $648,901 contract last winter with Carolina Marine Structures to dredge 3,750 linear feet in Doughs Creek and 35,700 square feet of the boat basin north of the Cora Mae Basnight Bridge going to Roanoke Island Festival Park. According to the contract, the dredged sand would go to the town’s wastewater treatment plant and be placed in constructed berms.

Including $648,901 for the original contract, $35,000 for engineering, $50,000 to relocate the power line, $50,000 to lease property to temporarily store the material, and $11,099 for contingency additional yardage, the project costs ended up totaling $795,000.

The state’s shallow draft fund covered two-thirds of the project, with the remaining third picked up by the Historic Roanoke Island Fund. The town has also paid $23,025 for engineering expenses incurred before the grant was awarded.

Skinner told the Sentinel that the company has not responded to the town’s request for reimbursement. Chris Coleman, the president of Carolina Marine Structures, did not respond to a request seeking comment.

But in earlier interviews Skinner said that Coleman contended that the material, which has value as fill, was removed to make the disposal site at the town’s site “acceptable for receiving the dredge spoil.” Acting on a tip, town Police Chief Vance Haskett viewed surveillance video footage of the 71 dump trucks driving away from the site loaded with the dredge material.

Skinner said he “would hate to speculate” on what happened to the sand after it was hauled off, adding that Coleman told him that he gave it away. “But I have no way to prove or disprove that,” he said, adding, “All of this could have been avoided if (Coleman) had contacted us ahead of time.”

The contractor’s requests for modifications in the contract for the project produced mixed results. In December 2017, a change order for $10,000 was filed by the contractor and approved by the town, to cover additional cubic yardage for the project. In June, the contractor filed another change order, seeking an additional $6,000 for another increase in cubic yardage. The unit price for the material cited in the contract was $15 per cubic yard. The Board of Commissioners declined to approve that change.

Town attorney Wyatt Booth, a partner in the Raleigh law firm Williams Mullen, said that, based on information provided by local contractors, the town calculated that each of the dump trucks held about $215 worth of material. In asking the contractor to reimburse the town by about $15,000, Manteo officials multiplied that $215 amount by the 71 trucks seen hauling it away.

By the time the Manteo Commissioners first approved that reverse change order in July, Booth explained, the contractor had completed the project, which began in late November. The contractor has been paid, all except the $6,000 for the second change order that was never approved.

Booth added that Coleman has refused to sign the reverse change order seeking $15,247.25 back from the contractor. “That’s where it stands,” he said in a recent interview.

Booth said that Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden was consulted about the possibility of pressing charges against the contractor for removing the sand, but Cruden discouraged it. “The D.A. views this as a civil dispute, a contract dispute,” Booth said. “I don’t necessarily disagree with that.”

Cruden did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Booth added that, if the parties cannot find a resolution through discussion and negotiation, the remedy is that either party can file a lawsuit. “I don’t know where they’ll end up on that front,” he said.

Meanwhile, a different snafu related to the project — apparently brought to the attention of the State Auditor by a whistleblower — is also still up in the air.

In July, investigators from the auditor’s office interviewed at least nine current and former town officials, reportedly focusing mostly on the $50,000 oral leasing contract between the town and private property owner, Virginia Beach developer Bill Klimkiewicz, who allowed the barge to offload the dredged material on his land to be stored during the 120-day project.

No details about the investigation, including confirmation that it even took place, can be provided by the auditor’s office before a report is published, said Brad Young, the director of external affairs at the state Office of the State Auditor. The report, when completed, will be available on the agency’s website, he said.

Speaking in general terms, Young said that, when people are interviewed, they are asked to keep the questions confidential in order to not jeopardize the investigation. But they are not mandated by law to be quiet about it.

This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Sentinel, a weekly Dare County newspaper that is published in print every Wednesday and headquartered at 2910 South Croatan Highway, Nags Head. Aside from the print paper, the Sentinel also produces a continually updated digital version at www.obsentinel.com.

About the Author

Catherine Kozak

Catherine Kozak has been a reporter and writer on the Outer Banks since 1995. She worked for 15 years for The Virginian Pilot. Born and raised in the suburbs outside New York City, Catherine earned her journalism degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz. During her career, she has written about dozens of environmental issues, including oil and gas exploration, wildlife habitat protection, sea level rise, wind energy production, shoreline erosion and beach nourishment. She lives in Nags Head.