‘Great Wall’ Comes Down

A 50-foot section of the retaining wall around the Drawdy Park football field collapsed Sunday night, spurring many County critics to say ‘I told you so.’

Contractor: Wall Poorly Constructed

WINNSBORO – In a massive stroke of dramatic irony Sunday night, the suspicions of County Council critics were confirmed when a portion of what is known in some circles as The Great Wall of Fairfield came crashing to the ground, leaving a 50-foot gap in the 525-foot long, 12-foot high retaining wall around the recently completed football field at Drawdy Park. The collapse prompted the appearance of the project’s chief engineer and sparked a public “We told you so” from one Council critic at Monday night’s County Council meeting.

While the collapse came one day after severe storms dumped more than 3 inches of rain on Winnsboro, both Sam Savage of S2 Engineering and Consulting, the firm that managed the project, and interim County Administrator Milton Pope said Monday night that it was too early to determine what caused the collapse.

“Obviously, we don’t know what happened that caused the failure,” Savage told Council. “We’re trying to look into that.”

Savage said he contacted the contractor on the project, Four Brothers Enterprise, LLC in Lexington, and brought them out to view the damage Monday morning. He said the contractor made it clear that he would honor the County’s warranty and repair the wall at no cost to the County.

Savage then left Council chambers without Council posing a single question. Pope, meanwhile, told Council that his staff would be following the progress of the repairs closely.

“There have been questions about the project ever since my arrival,” Pope noted. “Council had approved this and we want to make sure that the product we have is what the County paid for. The County will also make sure that we do our due diligence after they do a further assessment. I think it would be too premature for someone to suggest exactly what happened with the failure, because we want documentation from them to give us the confidence we need to make sure there are no additional problems with the construction there.”

But Bob Carrison, a County critic and member of Saving Fairfield, said the County should have been doing its due diligence all along, and he lambasted Council during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting.

“That the retaining wall was flawed is not news,” Carrison said. “No, the collapse was entirely predictable. Not a matter of if, but when. There are at least a dozen people or more in this audience that knew the project was flawed. People from this group have been trying for months to get your eyes on the project. Late summer last year we made attempts to raise red flags on this structure and we tried to sound the alarm. We saw and we heard ample evidence to convince us that the project was poorly conceived and poorly executed.”

Carrison said that when he learned in late September that no inspections had been done on the project, he went to the County’s Planning and Zoning Department to verify that.

“I was told then by Director Ron Stowers that no, there were no plans for the structure that we could view,” Carrison said. “No plans had been submitted, there had been no inspections and they didn’t need to inspect this structure.”

But Pope told The Voice Monday morning that the County did, in fact, have structural engineering drawings for the project. Furthermore, Pope added, after visiting the site of the collapse he could see that rebar and the supporting footings were in place.

A Blythewood general contractor, however, reviewed photographs of the wall for The Voice and expressed serious concerns with how the wall was constructed. The contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, has built similar structures. He said it appeared as if there had been no plan for constructing the wall, or if there had been, the plan had not been followed.

Among his concerns was the absence of adequate rebar in the construction. Photographs of the collapsed portion of the wall show rebar inserted into every eighth column of block. The Blythewood contractor said rebar should have been inserted into every column of block and should have been filled with concrete. Photographs of the collapsed section indicate that no concrete fill had been included with the rebar.

The Blythewood contractor also said the sections of the wall had not been interlocked, as they should have been, nor were the deadmen (horizontal support sections running from the wall into the earth behind the wall). Rebar had also not been properly installed into the deadmen. Soil behind the wall also should have been compacted with every 2 feet of fill, the contractor said. Photographs of the collapse indicate that it had not. Weep holes (drainage holes) also should have been drilled along the base of the wall, he said. Photographs reveal the presence of no such holes.

Carrison said Saving Fairfield did not bring their concerns directly to Council because they had “no concrete proof that the allegations of mismanagement of this project were in fact true,” and because they felt Council would not take their concerns seriously.

“We have come to the conclusion that this Council looks upon us as nothing more than troublemaking malcontents,” Carrison said.

Carrison said Saving Fairfield called in the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to inspect the site in October in hopes they might condemn the property until testing and inspection could be done. However, all DHEC could do, Carrison said, was examine the site for proper runoff.

DHEC examined the site on Oct. 22 and gave it a “Satisfactory” rating, noting in their report that “A rough calculation of the disturbed area shows it to be less than 1 acre, which does not require an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which covers storm water drainage from construction sites) Construction General Permit to be issued.”

DHEC, County administrators clarified, was only concerned with an area at the lower end of the football field where significant amounts of earth had been displaced, and that area, they said they confirmed with DHEC, was less than 1 acre.

DHEC also noted in their report that “The area around the football field needs to be stabilized to ensure sediment does not leave the site.”

As Carrison’s allotted 3-minute time wound down, he showed no signs of letting up on Council.

“Done is done. Over a quarter of a million dollars is down the drain, literally,” Carrison said. “One question remains: How did the people of Saving Fairfield, how did we know these things and you did not? I don’t mean by that, how did Council or administration miss the red flags and the warnings. What I mean is that we knew and you did not. We were informed by people who knew what was going on.

“They did not come to you because they feared losing their jobs and their contracts,” Carrison said, raising his voice over calls from Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) for him to relent. “Please consider some strong whistleblowing protection for the employees and the contractors of this county (so they can) come talk to you and not fear reprisals and retribution. It has to be done,” Carrison shouted as a Fairfield County Sheriff’s Deputy escorted him from the microphone.

The cost for the entire project was originally capped at $280,000, according to an authorization signed by then County Administrator Phil Hinely on May 21, 2013. Late last summer, Council OK’d an additional $41,925 for fencing around the retaining wall. The County hauled away dirt from the site, at a cost of $5,737, bringing the grand total for the new Drawdy Park to $327,662.