11/02/12 — Mount Olive officials seek sewer plant settlement

View Archive

Mount Olive officials seek sewer plant settlement

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 2, 2012 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Attorneys for the town Thursday filed documents in Wayne County Superior Court seeking an injunction and sanctions against the engineer who designed the town's flawed sewer treatment plant after he failed to pay a $110,000 court-ordered settlement.

Meanwhile, the town will proceed as best it can to correct problems at the $13 million sewer plant, Town Manager Charles Brown said.

Engineer Fred Hobbs of Hobbs, Upchurch and Associates of Southern Pines had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to pay the $110,000.

Brown said he was not surprised the town had not received the settlement.

"I would have been more surprised if he had (paid)," Brown said. "It would have been a nice Halloween treat, but I had not been holding my breath."

Hobbs did call the town Wednesday, only to once again blame the delay on the company's insurance company, Brown said.

"That is kind of late at this point," Brown said. "We will be filing the papers this (Thursday) morning seeking the injunction against Mr. Hobbs for his failure to live up to the settlement. The motion will seek sanctions for his breach of the court mandate."

Brown said it is his understanding that what happens next will be up to the judge.

"Typically they could add the cost of the legal action to this point," he said. "It could pile on even more to what he owes. It just adds to a long list of issues that Fred has had to deal with."

Brown said Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones has been hearing the case.

A hearing on the firm's failure to meet the original Aug. 31 deadline was to have been held in September in Wayne County Superior Court. However, the town agreed to extend the deadline to Oct. 31 after Hobbs said he would pay the full amount of just over $110,000.

The extension also canceled an Oct. 15 court date that is separate from the settlement. Oct. 15 was to be the trial date during which the court was to determine whether Hobbs was negligent in his design of the sewer plant.

It will be up to the court to decide what happens there as well, Brown said.

The sewer project dates back to the 1990s. There were problems from the start at the plant, which was finished in 2008. The court action has been going on for about a year and a half.

AECOM was hired by the town to redesign the plans for the plant.

The settlement money would be used to fix a number of problems, including an effluent measuring device, at the plant.

The town is permitted by the state for a specific amount of daily flow through the plant. The measuring device could make it easy for the amount to be misread and thereby opening the town to state fines.

Another problem is with the plant's filters and the equalization basin that needs to be cleaned out -- something that should have been done during construction. Grit in the bottom takes away some of its capacity, Brown said.

"We have budgeted to address some of the issues at the plant, and we have already addressed some," Brown said. "We had not anticipated getting the money.

"We will do the other parts as we can. We will be able to get it done, but not as fast as we would have been able to if we had gotten the money."