Sinkholes near Heflin highway open up questions of responsibility for repair
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Dec 15, 2013 | 4140 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sinkhole activity alongside a Heflin highway has some wondering who caused it and who's going to pay for it. (Anniston Star photo by Laura Camper)
Sinkhole activity alongside a Heflin highway has some wondering who caused it and who's going to pay for it. (Anniston Star photo by Laura Camper)
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HEFLIN — In front of Sewell Manufacturing on Alabama 46, gaping holes in the lawn have developed over the last 10 years or so because of deteriorating storm water drainage pipes, according to company staff.

The company believes that the Alabama Department of Transportation, which uses some of the pipes to drain storm water off the highway, should fix the problem, said Plant Manager Travis Prichard. But ALDOT blames it on the company’s drainage system and will only be fixing the issues on state right of way, said DeJarvis Leonard, division engineer for the department.

“We’re not going to connect his pipe back to our system,” Leonard said.

Sewell Manufacturing located in Heflin in 1965. It built the building where it sews military uniforms and tailored clothing. At its peak production, the company employed about 200 people, said Charlie Brown, design and quality control manager for the company. With military contracts down, it currently employs about 50, he said.

Both ALDOT and the company agree that the company hooked into ALDOT’s drainage system. Prichard said the company did that when it built the building to drain water off the site and guide it, as well as water from the highway, to a ditch in back of the company’s property.

“Personally, I think it’s a state highway department issue since a lot of their water runs into the pipe,” Prichard said. “I think it’s a city or state issue.”

The city of Heflin got involved when the sinkholes expanded near the highway, said Mayor Rudy Rooks. He sent a letter to ALDOT district engineer Mike Tims on Oct. 1, saying that one of the sinkholes on the property, if left unaddressed, could cause part of the curb and gutter to collapse. In addition, he noted that the culvert appeared to be obstructed and a homeowner across the street had complained of flooding in his yard during a heavy rain in August. It was a hazard, Rooks said.

“The dirt was washing out from under the road,” he said.

ALDOT came out and inspected the site and has done some work there, Leonard said. He was unsure what more needs to be done, but he repeated that the failure was a result of the company’s drainage system.

Rooks said he got involved only to help the company and the city has no responsibility to fix the problems. However, Rooks said, the company is talking about expanding its business in Heflin which would be good for the city. The company belongs to a conglomerate of companies that include a plant in Bremen and Bowdon.

Prichard confirmed that the company is looking to expand if some potential contracts come through.

The contracts have “serious” potential, Prichard said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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