After slogging through mud Friday afternoon to hear the concerns of a property owner who said the city is responsible for causing drainage problems on his land, members of the Alexander City City Council said they are willing to conduct a work session to find a solution.
Mayor Tommy Spraggins, councilmembers Bobby Tapley, Scott Hardy, Eric Brown, Chris Brown and Tim Funderburk, city attorney Larkin Radney and community development director Al Jones met with property owner Kenneth Ledbetter at property he and the city share a boundary with at Lee Street and Central Avenue.
The meeting was legal because it was only for the council to ask questions of Ledbetter and gain information, a fact Radney made clear from the beginning. No deliberations or votes occurred.
Spraggins and the council couldn’t have picked a better day to walk through the property after heavy rain in the previous 24 hours made the drainage issues apparent.
A solution is less obvious, even after Ledbetter showed the officials a warehouse he owns at the site was flooded Thursday night and Friday.
“It’s going to be a challenge to solve it,” Spraggins said afterward. “But I think it was constructive. Everybody understands the issues.”
Radney provided some guidance.
“You can negotiate a deal with the property owner but the citizens of Alexander City have to benefit from it,” he said.
Ledbetter, who owns barbecue businesses on the Auburn University campus and in Alexander City, has said he plans to invest nearly $1 million to build 250 storage units on his three acres at the site.
Ledbetter said late Alexander City Mayor Jim Nabors informally agreed to give him a half acre of city property at the site to help control drainage on his parcel in exchange for Ledbetter splitting the cost of materials with the city to complete a major ditch. Ledbetter said he paid $20,000 in personal funds to contractor Roy Granger to address drainage issues that also affect adjoining city property. Granger sold the city 11.25 acres at the site for $275,000 in February.
The city and Ledbetter would have paid $9,000 apiece to finish the large drainage ditch that straddles the property line between the city’s land and Ledbetter’s.
But at its June 3 meeting, the city council decided not to take action on the proposal to trade Ledbetter the .46 acres of city property for splitting the cost of materials to finish the large drainage ditch on the property line between the 3 acres already owned by Ledbetter and 3½ acres owned by the city. The motion died for lack of a second.
Friday, Ledbetter told the council while standing in the muck of his property the city council’s indecision stopped his project and led to the flooding at his warehouse.
Ledbetter said a secondary ditch coming downhill from a portion of the city’s property got clogged with silt Thursday night and was breached, resulting in flood damage to his warehouse.
“There is a ditch that ran over last night and my warehouse had 12 inches of water in it,” Ledbetter told Spraggins and the council. “That’s the original ditch we tried to get control of.”
Ledbetter then showed the officials what he said insurance agents estimated to be $30,000 in damage to furniture and equipment in the warehouse. Water marks were visible on some of the equipment and water remained pooled in some spots on the floor.
“The original plan was to build up my property so it would drain,” Ledbetter said. “I paid Roy $20,000 to fill things up. But we had to stop. … We talked to Nabors about building this up 2 feet then y’all got involved. This was a hole and I bought it and I can do what I want with it. But you can’t dump water on me. … I offered to pay half the cost of a ditch for this half acre and now I’ve got damage in my building. I’ve got water coming from over here and over there.”
But during the discussion Ledbetter and several councilmembers disagreed about how the property was graded and drainage routes changed.
Radney told Ledbetter no matter how well intentioned Nabors’ agreement was, Nabors could not make that decision on his own.
“There is no way a mayor can make a deal like that,” Radney said.
Councilmember Eric Brown said the council was never asked for permission for work to be performed at the site that would have affected city property.
“There is a way things have to work, a procedure,” Brown told Ledbetter. “I don’t see how this is a city problem when we were not contracted to do anything here.”
Funderburk suggested the council devote a work session to the issue and Spraggins said it would likely be scheduled the week of July 29.
“Ken, we want you to develop this property,” Funderburk told Ledbetter.
Jones said he hopes good will and cooperation will ultimately prevail to find a solution.
“All parties had good intentions but it didn’t turn out the way anybody wanted,” Jones said.
Councilmember Buffy Colvin did not attend Friday’s informational meeting because she was already scheduled to take her mother to a doctor’s appointment.