Company pledges to work with county on issue


A North Carolina-based utility company has pledged to resolve a nearly year-long construction issue at the Jackson County Judicial Center.

A Duke Energy spokesman told The Tribune on Monday it plans to complete work in four weeks so the county can build a wheelchair-accessible ramp on the northwest side of the center, which opened in December.

Contractors have not been able to complete the ramp, which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, because a guy-wire attached to a utility pole is anchored to the ground where the ramp needs to be constructed. Guy-wires help stabilize utility poles.

"We realize this is a little bit late in coming and we apologize for that," Chip Orben, Duke’s government and community relations manager, said. "We’ve made a commitment now to get that done, weather permitting, in the next four weeks. Internally, we’re aware that we need to move on this as quickly as we can, but as safely as we can."

The news comes after The Tribune made the company aware that commissioners voted to send a legal letter to the company after a year of reaching out without a result.

Commissioners voted 2-0 to approve the letter. Commissioner Drew Markel was absent from the meeting.

That letter has not been sent yet, officials said, but is expected to still be sent.

Orben said the work will require the company to remove the anchor and pole, re-configure energy delivering infrastructure and complete the work.

He said it’s not as simple as it seems to remove the anchor.

"It’s not like pulling a flag out of the ground and removing it," Orben said. "We do have to look at it and the facilities that are on it. There are quite a few facilities on that pole and we have to figure out how to design it."

Warren Martin, who oversees special projects for the county, recently told commissioners he began contacting a Duke representative through phone calls and emails about completing the work sometime in August or September in 2018. He said at one point he was told workers were not available because they had been assisting with areas of the country that were hit by hurricanes and tornadoes.

Martin said the work was not in the original plan, but he began contacting Duke when he realized there was a problem.

Martin said he still has tried to contact Duke recently, but his calls and emails have gone unanswered. 

Commissioners President Matt Reedy said he fears a lawsuit could be filed or the county could be penalized during an ADA inspection if the issue isn’t resolved. He said he believes the letter may help ease some of the liability on the county as they work to try to complete it.

“The ball is back in their court, and that way, we are kind of covered if there is a suit,” he said. "Surely within a year, they could have put it on somebody’s work schedule.”

Reedy also tried to contact Duke about the problem but said he didn’t receive any answers. He said that has left the county with few options.

“We have to get that pole moved because we’re not ADA compliant," he said.

Orben told The Tribune the company acknowledged issue needs to be resolved.

"It’s a long time and there’s no doubt about that, but we need to do a better job to responding to those requests," he said. "We will get it taken care of so the county can complete what needs to be done."