DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners agreed last night with County Manager Chris Knopf’s recommendation to cease working with the embattled engineering firm for the Interstates Sewer Project.
In making his recommendation, Knopf told the board that since the last meeting, more information has become available from Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, the firm that has recently lost both the county’s grant administration team as well as the county’s engineer.
“Since the past meeting, we’ve received some information that, along with information provided by private citizens and one of our municipal partners, that has cautioned our willingness to move forward utilizing any additional engineering, design or construction services (from the firm),” he said.
He said he had recently received a letter from Fred Hobbs, one of the company’s owner, but that letter did little to smooth over the fact that most of the people familiar with the project had left the firm.
“Based on that letter, it is our intention to move forward with a new engineer in the near future,” he said, noting that more information was needed from Hobbs, Upchurch before that move can become a reality.
Knopf said county staff is hoping to receive all pertinent documentation in the near future.
“I suggest that we request (Hobbs Upchurch) to make available a complete set of plans on the forced main sewer project for the Interstates Sewer District, with a written release allowing the county or its agent to advertise, bid and construct sewer improvements using its documentation,” he said.
Commissioner Paul Johnson asked whether the engineering firm is legally bound to release the information. County Attorney Ed Woltz said they aren’t legally bound to release the information, but he hoped they would comply.
Board members suggested that over the next couple of weeks there could be a called meeting, noting they want to do “whatever it takes to move the project forward.”
Since the grant administration team overseeing the funding for the $4.5 million project has left, Knopf said he has huddled with county staff and they feel there is enough experience in-house to continue administering the grants on the county level.
“We believe that within the county’s structure, we have the wherewithal to administer several of these grants, and feel like we can handle them in-house,” he said, noting that the county will have to retain an administrator to oversee the single Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) associated with the project.
Based on a motion by Johnson and with a second by Commissioner Jimmy Miller, the board unanimously voted to allow the county to proceed with a request for proposals (RFP) to administer the grant.
In addition to the $1 million in funding pledged to the project by Mount Airy with the stipulation that they use a higher capacity combined gravity and force-main system, the county has secured $1 million in funding from the Rural Center, and additional $300,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $200,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation, $150,000 through a federal CDBG and a pledge of about $160,000 from property owners in the district.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.