A holey mess

Nobody wants to pay for fixing sinkhole, drain
Jul. 24, 2013 @ 08:06 AM

The large sinkhole that has opened up in front of Mi Carreta Mexican Grill near the intersection of U.S. 321 and U.S. 321-A in Lenoir is turning into a money pit, and attorneys are trying to figure out who will pay for the fix.

The earth began collapsing last month after cracks appeared in the pavement around a storm drain in the restaurant's parking lot.

Hickory-based Huffman Grading was contacted by the owner of the property, James and Helen Der, who lease the property to Mi Caretta. James Der said that Huffman excavated around the drain and discovered damage to a box culvert and pipes coming from the neighboring Tobacco To Go convenience store. Der says he was told by Huffman Grading that the repair job would exceed $100,000.

"We expect more (liability) on their (the store's) side," Der said.

Radford Thomas, Lenoir's public utilities director, said the storm drain was more than 50 years old by the time it failed and probably was installed by a property developer.

The hole has drawn curiosity-seekers eager to get a close-up view of the giant hole. But it has not helped business at Mi Carreta, a popular lunchtime eatery.

"Three weeks ago, business was slow," said Luis Solis, who works at Mi Carreta. "Our parking was limited. People still call and ask if we are closed."

Maggie King, who eats at Mi Carreta on a regular basis, doesn't think the property owner should get stuck holding the tab.

"I would think that, as a small town, the city and state would combine to help the owner," she said as she sat on a bench outside the restaurant. "The owner isn't part of (the problem)."

Cliff Whipkey pulled his pickup into the Tobacco To Go parking lot Tuesday to get a look at the hole. He said he comes by to look every now and then.

"I think that's terrible," he said. "The state ought to pick up the tab, with local government and the owner maybe. It's an awful big expense for one business to bear."

But Thomas said the sinkhole is neither the city's nor the state's responsibility because it is not in their rights-of-way.

"We have no responsibilities to whatever is causing the sinkhole," Thomas said.

The hole exposed a plastic, 6-inch water line owned Lenoir. To avoid any disruption to service, city crews rerrouted the flow of water between two water hydrants. The original line will be restored when the hole is repaired, Thomas said.

Meanwhile, the heavy, earth-moving equipment on the south edge of the hole has been sitting idle. Der said his attorney, the attorney for BCW Properties, which owns the Tobacco To Go, and their insurance companies are hoping to reach an agreement soon to determine who will pay for the repairs.

Efforts to reach Huffman Grading, BCW Properties and the owner of Mi Carreta were unsuccessful.