Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Engineering firm paid $42,400 to study its own stormwater ponds after repeated Leland flooding

Leland's town manager said accusations of a conflict of interest are "unfounded."

Leland's town manager David Hollis presents the final version of a flood study report before Council. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Leland’s town manager David Hollis presents the final version of a flood study report before Council. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Editor’s note: John Kazmarski, Leland’s infrastructure committee chairman, was initially misidentified as Leland’s Chief of Police. 

LELAND — The town of Leland paid an engineering company thousands of dollars to study flooding resulting from a project that same company had engineered.  It’s a potential conflict of interest that has some questioning the results of the study.

After persistent flooding issues developed around Magnolia Greens in Leland, the town paid Cape Fear Engineering $42,400 to study the effectiveness of the development’s stormwater management system.

According to the minutes from Leland Town Council meetings, a request for proposals was not conducted before hiring the firm.

RELATED: Here’s how Leland’s Special Assessment District, the largest and costliest in the state, will work

Leland town Council initiated the report in May, after learning of stormwater management issues stemming from an overflowing weir — that’s the dam located at the end of a series of water retention pond, the last barrier preventing overflow into surrounding areas. Though the wier, located in the Magnolia Greens Subdivision, is privately owned, Leland allocated taxpayer funds to study the issue.

Because of persistent flooding, roads in Magnolia Greens have developed “alligator cracking,” a signature type of asphalt distress that resembles lizard scales. According to the study, these roads must now be repaired.

The town estimates the cost to fix the damaged roads could be several hundred thousand dollars, and taxpayers could be on the hook for the cost.

Conflict of interest?

On Tuesday, Leland presented the results of Cape Fear Engineering’s report.

George Steelberg, president of the Magnolia Greens Home Owners Association (HOA), said the report was “somewhat biased”

“It’s probably the best that I’ve seen in the years I’ve been involved in the community,” Steelberg said during Leland Town Council’s special meeting Tuesday. “But there are fallacies in some of that presentation.”

The report states the Magnolia Greens weir appears to be out of state compliance because it’s not properly maintained, which Steelberg disputed. It also states the town became aware of Magnolia Greens flooding issues in 2016; Steelberg told Leland’s town manager, David Hollis, that discussions started in 2013.

In an email following the meeting, Hollis said the accusation of a conflict of interest is unfounded:

“Cape Fear Engineering (CFE) was one of the on-call, preapproved engineering firms that the town utilized prior to initiating the Magnolia Greens stormwater study. CFE had existing knowledge of the area and design, as well as existing survey information, which provided an opportunity to reduce the cost of the study. I think the study is valid and not biased. I think the accusation of a conflict of interest for CFE is unfounded. The primary concern identified in the study is that no storage is being maintained because the pond is not returning to its design normal pond elevation of 21 feet.”

Though Cape Fear Engineering provided engineering services to Magnolia Greens, the development is not listed in the firm’s online portfolio.

Who’s responsible?

According to a pond maintenance agreement, Magnolia Greens is responsible for keeping the weir’s stormwater levels at 21 feet deep — lower levels are not problematic, but higher levels can lead to overflow. The flood study found the weir is being maintained at 23.35 feet.

Steelberg said the last time the weir was at 21 feet was during a drought in 2008.

“If Magnolia Greens is not maintaining the water surface level and the roads continue to flood, it doesn’t seem appropriate to place the burden on fixing that road to everyone in the town,” Hollis said during the meeting. 

Hollis suggested road repairs could be accomplished through assessments paid for by Magnolia Greens residents, rather than the entire town. Hollis isn’t the only one to suggest that Leland as a whole shouldn’t bear the burden of flood-related repairs. In January, John Kazmarski, Leland’s infrastructure committee chairman, said flooding of Magnolia Green’s roads was the developer’s fault, not the town’s. He suggested redesigning the weir as a solution.

Magnolia Greens HOA obtained its own engineering report to study the weir, performed by Norris and Tunstall Consulting Engineers. That report stated the weir could be dropped 2.5 inches. In April, Jimmy Strickland, Leland’s director of public services at the time, questioned whether the HOA’s report would solve the flooding issue.

Potential solutions

During Tuesday evening’s meeting, Hollis presented several solutions Cape Fear Engineering suggested in its report:

  • Change the current stormwater design at a cost of $4 to $5 million
  • Modify the public storm drain system at a cost of $50,000
  • Encourage the Magnolia Greens HOA to maintain the pond system and hire a professional management service.

Steelberg stated Magnolia Greens is continuing to work with its own engineer to find a solution. Magnolia Greens Master Association, the new owner of Magnolia Greens Golf Course, will meet with Leland to determine a solution for the weir in the coming weeks.

Mayor Brenda Bozeman said Magnolia Green’s engineer is welcome to attend the meeting.

“If they got their engineer too that wants to come, let him come,” she said.

Note: Cape Fear Engineering declined to comment for this story.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify the scope of Cape Fear Engineering’s study.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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