Originally created 09/10/04

Residents gripe over roadwork



Donnie Smith says he signed an agreement with Richmond County's Public Works Department for it not to cut down seven of his oak trees.

But one day he came home and discovered the trees had been cut.

The longtime Augustan also says there were weeks when he couldn't get out of his driveway and that workers have littered yards throughout his neighborhood with gravel and debris.

This list of complaints stems from a $1.8 million county project to improve Warren Road that Mr. Smith says has been "shoddy from the get-go."

"It's just a disaster," said Mr. Smith, who has lived at the corner of Warren and Whaley roads for 14 years. "All I'm asking is for them to live up to what they're supposed to do."

The project is to widen the road, add sidewalks and a sewage system, and install a traffic light at the Warren and Washington roads intersection.

Work by Mabus Brothers Construction began in January so that the portion of the road near Warren Road Elementary School would be finished by the start of school.

That section went smoothly, but Mr. Smith said he is upset with the condition of Warren Road near his home.

"They created a 6-foot embankment by raising the road 3 feet. How am I supposed to mow my grass?" he said. "None of the owners have been advised of anything."

The loss of the trees - which the county has offered to compensate for, at a rate of $100 per tree - means there's no buffer between his house and the road, which is now closer because it is being widened.

And Mr. Smith and neighbor Steve Zimmerman's biggest gripe is that although the project is only halfway complete, construction seemed to stop six weeks ago, and there's no indication when it will resume.

Eric Thompson, assistant director of public works, said the reason for the halt is that the county is in a dispute with Georgia Power and several other companies about who is responsible for moving utility poles.

"We're waiting for the city attorney to provide his official opinion of who's responsible," he said, noting he doubts the issue will go to court. "We hope it will be settled in the next week or two. ... Once it's resolved, you'll see power company crews out there in a few weeks."

It's impossible to say, though, how long the relocation of the poles will take, especially considering dozens of Georgia Power workers have been sent around the state to fix power lines downed by Hurricane Frances.

Mr. Zimmerman said the fact the utility pole issue was not finalized before construction started shows the county doesn't have its ducks in a row.

But Mr. Thompson said his department thought it was important to go ahead with work near the school and "hope that by the time we finished there, responsibility for the poles would be settled."

"It just didn't work out," he said. "Probably some people will be inconvenienced until the work gets done."

As for the missing trees, Mr. Thompson said Mr. Smith was told some of his trees would definitely be removed and that the others might need to be removed; if this happened, he would be paid.

Mr. Smith disagrees, and his lawyer is examining the contract he signed with the county.

In the meantime, Mabus Brothers is "in a bind," having to fire workers since construction shut down, according to Vice President Larry Goolsby.

"There's nothing we can do. We can't work," he said. "Every project they (Richmond County) does, this happens."

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.