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Boone Town Council Dismayed at $31,000 Cost to Shorten Light Poles on U.S. 421; Potential for Lawsuit

Light poles on U.S. 421 widening. Photo by Maria Richardson

By Jesse Wood

July 18, 2012. At Tuesday’s Boone Town Council meeting, council members expressed dismay at the $31,000 cost to make all 77 light poles along the recently completed U.S. 421 widening project the same size.

Currently, 24 of the light poles are 30 feet tall while the remaining 53 are 20 feet tall. The taller poles will need to be sawed down to 20 feet and will require an “adapter” to shim the poles into place at the correct height. The lights are located between Modern Toyota and Hardin Street.

According to Boone’s Public Works Director Blake Brown, the discrepancy arose when the lights were designed off of N.C. Department of Transportation plans, which weren’t accurate as far as mentioning the correct number of utility duct banks instilled along side the highway.

“Rather than go out and survey, we went off [NCDOT] plans,” Brown said, adding that in hindsight the town should have waited until the road was finished before starting working with the lights.

The utility contractor with NCDOT installed telephone cables. The utility contractor, Brown stated, said only one utility duct bank existed, when actually three of them did – and they existed behind the sidewalk where the light poles were to be installed. This caused the light poles to be moved underneath the power lines, and regulations require 10 feet of clearance beneath the power lines. Because of sagging power lines, some of the power lines didn’t meet the clearance limit, and subsequently needed to be shortened.

“We already had to pay for those poles. It’s just really frustrating. When you appropriate money, you expect it to be done right,” Council Member Lynne Mason said.

Council members discussed the possibility of not having to foot the bill for the adjustments to the light poles and the potential for litigation against the engineer of the project, Reece, Noland and McElrath.

“It may depend on what knowledge engineer had at the time,” Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele said, adding that there were “ambiguities” in the contract materials. “There is a potential claim against the engineer firm for costs of making adjustments. But it is no more than a potential. It would take a lot of investigations – not just solved by paper work.”

Furgiuele said if the council does decide to pursue a lawsuit, it would need to act fast. The contract was signed by Town Manager Greg Young on August 7, 2009, and statue of limitations expires within three years, Furgiuele said.

“Because of the short time [frame], action to be taking would be a lawsuit. Assuming first and talking later is not normally how you want to pursue,” Furgiuele said, adding that the timeframe is short but not impossibly short.

The Boone Town Council motioned to discuss this issue further in closed session after its next meeting on Thursday, July 19.