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Questionable billing for NCDOT winter storm contractors

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Two major winter storms crippled North Carolina at the start of the year, and their effects have gone far beyond just traffic inconveniences and canceled school.

The first big storm, which hit Jan. 28, pushed the state into the red as snow cleanup went $2 million over budget. Then, just two weeks later, another winter storm bore down on the state.

“We knew sooner or later that a new emergency would occur – it was not if, but when,” Gov. Pat McCrory said Feb. 11 during a press conference to declare a state of emergency in North Carolina. “Sadly this last two weeks has impacted our budget.”

Through both storms, Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s chief concern was keeping the state’s 80,000 miles of roadways clear. But the storms proved to be too much for state crews, so the DOT contracted with third-party businesses to assist with snow removal.

"There are about 2,000 employees on the roads right now with about 700 trucks," Tata said during the Feb. 11 press conference. "We've put down 1.9 million gallons of brine in the last 24 hours.”

In detailed records provided by the DOT, WNCN found the state paid more than $1.8 million to the third-party contractors that helped with the cleanup.

Among them, the DOT paid Spring Hope-based Layton, LLC, $175 an hour for a motor grader in the Triangle’s division. For 19-1/2 hours of work, the company earned $3,412.50.

In Charlotte’s division, the DOT paid Bridge Broom Inc. $2,500 for a brine truck’s 20 hours of work.

And in the western part of the state, the government paid a Waynesville company $900 for a motor grader’s 9 hours of work.

DOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder, who manages the contracts in each of the state’s 14 divisions, said the department specifies expectations for equipment and work, the contractors are then paid by the hour.

“In some cases we’ll have inspectors that will actually follow the private plows or private motor graders to verify that their time is correct,” Holder explained.

While 20 hours of work is reasonable for the snow cleanup, other companies billed the state for hundreds of hours of work.

Statesville-based L&M Construction billed $147,943 for the use of a 10-cubic-yard spreader and plow for 1,348 hours of work. The work amounts to about 56 days of work for a single truck.

"That's very unusual -- $148,000," Holder said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to look into and get back with you on."

Holder said most of the hours billed for contract work looked “pretty plausible,” but he said “there’s a few that my office needs to look into and just try to ascertain what happened.”

Some of the hours billed to the state were even estimated, which Holder ensured is not “common practice.” In the DOT's 11th Division, which covers Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties, six contractors billed the state for estimated hours worked.

"Maybe they didn't have enough inspectors and they estimated hours based on what our forces would have taken to do it," Holder said.

WNCN also found that in some cases, the contractors North Carolina’s state department has on record are dissolved or not even listed. Yet those businesses still received taxpayer money.

Holder said his office is still working on doing their own audit of the figures. He said that if the department finds that issues exist, they will be corrected.

“I pledge to you that I’ll do that,” Holder said.



Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Sean Maroney

Sean anchors WNCN News at 6, 7 & 11 PM. Raised in North Carolina, he returns home after nearly a decade reporting around the world. Each night, he brings his love of this community and powerful journalism into our newsroom and your home.


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