Interviews slated with numerous town officials
An investigator from the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor is slated to be in Manteo this week to question current and former town officials about possible improprieties related to last year’s dredging project in Shallowbag Bay, town officials have confirmed.
“I’m on the agenda for 4:30,” Mayor Bobby Owens said, stating that since he was newly elected, he was not involved in the project. “I do know it’s about the contract to let the dredging go behind Festival Park.”
Others scheduled for interviews, according to Town Manager Kermit Skinner, are former mayors John Wilson and Jamie Daniels; Skinner and Town Clerk Becky Breiholz; and Manteo Commissioners Eddie Mann, Nancy Peele, Darrell Collins and Christine Walker.
The town learned earlier this month that Robert Olman from the State Auditor’s Office had requested the interviews.
Brad Young, director of external affairs at the state auditor’s office, said he could neither deny nor confirm that an investigation was being conducted. The agency, which is charged with assuring that public resources are properly accounted for, does not release public information about investigations until a report is written, he said.
Last winter, the town entered into a $648,901 contract with Carolina Marine Structures in Powells Point 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.
Funds were provided from the state’s Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging and Aquatic Feed Fund, covering 80 percent of the cost. The remaining 20 percent came from an account accrued by the former Roanoke Island Commission. The contract stated that the dredged sand would be taken to the town’s wastewater treatment plant and placed in constructed berms.
But apparently that dredged material, commonly known as “spoil,” has caused headaches for the town, from its initial disposal to its mysterious disappearance.
According to Skinner, the auditor is interested in an oral contract with property owner and Virginia Beach developer Bill Klimkiewicz, who was paid $50,000 by the town to allow his property to be used as a barge landing site during the course of the 120 days of the project, which began on Nov. 27.
According to documents provided to the Sentinel, in a July 10, 2018 letter to the auditor’s office, Warren D. Eadus, president of the engineering firm Quible & Associates, the project consultant that handled permitting for the town, explained that Klimkiewicz’s property was identified in late 2015-early 2016 as an ideal site for the spoil. He added that the state refused to allow its property at Festival Park to be used, and other sites were considered not as economical.
“The Klimkiewicz family does not live in the area and their local representative, Lee Tugwell, was approached to find out if the property could be used,” Eadus wrote. “I believe we were told verbally heading into the new CAMA Major Permit process in the spring of 2016 that we would be allowed to use the property, but we didn’t iron out any details until later in the permit process.” Tugwell owns a construction contracting business in Manteo and is a former town mayor and commissioner.
Eadus wrote that he, Skinner and Tugwell had met at the property on an unknown date and discussed fees to lease it from Klimkiewicz. They agreed verbally, he added, to pay Klimkiewicz $50,000, or about $417 a day. The material is no longer on his property.
“I do not know if there were any additional talks between the Town and the Klimkiewicz’s representative after that meeting,” Eadus continued, “but we walked away with a verbal agreement and moved forward with the project.“
Skinner said in an interview on Friday that the town also worked with Manteo Commissioner Hannon Fry on arrangements for the agreement. Fry had been acting as an agent for the property owner, Skinner said, but received no cut of the fee from the town.
Invoices were submitted by Tugwell to the town in December: Tugwell Transport Inc., $25,000; Klimkiewicz Family Manteo I, LLC, $12,500; Ettiger Family LLC, $12,500. The bills were paid from an $88,000 state grant provided to the town to cover the unanticipated expenses beyond the dredge contract. Ettiger has the same address as the Klimkiewicz company.
More complications arose after the dredge material was finally transported from Klimkiewicz’s property to the town’s property at the wastewater facility.
In investigating eyewitness reports of unusual traffic of trucks leaving the site last winter, Manteo Police Chief Vance Haskett said he had viewed “hours and hours and hours” of surveillance video. He reported to the town that he counted 71 dump trucks hauling dirt from the site. But he said he does not know where they were going.
“That we’re not sure of,” he said in a recent interview. “All I needed to know is that the trucks were leaving.”
Skinner said that the contractor, Carolina Marine Structures, was not authorized under the contract to remove material, which he said is valuable on the Outer Banks — no matter its quality — as fill. But the contractor told the town, Skinner said, that the contract provided “the latitude to do anything he wants to do” with the material, which was viewed by the contractor as “worthless.”
The town did not agree, Skinner said. After consultation with the district attorney’s office, the town was advised to try to find a civil – versus criminal – solution.
Although he acknowledged speculation that the material had been sold, Skinner said he also does not know what happened to the spoil after it was trucked away. “To the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been pursued,” he said.
At the Manteo Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Skinner said that it was decided to present the contractor with a reverse change order that would reduce the contractor’s compensation by $15,247.25.
But Mayor Owens, who calls the whole dredging project “a waste of money,” said he’ll not have the town making nice after the way the spoil was hauled off. “All of that – I hit the ceiling over it,” he said. The board “wants to settle with the contractor. I won’t settle."
“I’m eighty-five years-old,” Owens added, “and whatever’s going on is not right.”