Businessman Kenneth Ledbetter struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday, saying he is willing to give the City of Alexander City a chance to divert rainwater runoff from its property onto his so he can begin a $1 million project to build 250 storage units.
Mayor Tommy Spraggins said Tuesday he would authorize city engineer and public works director Gerard Brewer to begin work on the city’s property at Central Avenue and Lee Street by the end of next week, barring any complications.
“Let’s see what happens in the next two weeks,” said Ledbetter, who reacted angrily to the city council’s decision at Monday’s meeting to remove from its agenda a resolution proposing the city move dirt from its more highly elevated property to Ledbetter’s adjoining land to help properly slope drainage away from his warehouse and toward Russell Road.
Ledbetter, who owns a barbecue business in Alexander City, criticized the inaction as an example of the city’s unwillingness to help make the land tenable for him to put storage units there, although several councilmembers have said they want to help Ledbetter in every way possible.
“Some of them want to help,” Ledbetter said. “I think Tommy is really interested in getting the problem solved. If the city fixes their water problem, I’m good. If they don’t, the alternative is for me to file a complaint with ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management).”
The resolution said the city would provide its dirt at no cost but also required Ledbetter to sign documents holding the city harmless for work he did on his property after receiving the dirt.
Ledbetter said councilmember Eric Brown, who was considered the swing vote, told him before Monday’s meeting he was against using city dirt on Ledbetter’s property, likely leading to a 3-3 split and no decision. Instead, the resolution was removed from the agenda.
“So I told them to take the dirt out of the equation and just fix the water,” Ledbetter said. “And they still couldn’t vote on it.”
Brown didn’t disclose what his vote was going to be but said a resolution wasn’t necessary because Spraggins and Brewer can direct city crews to correct drainage problems on city property to make it ADEM compliant.
“Mr. Ledbetter’s speculation is not worth commenting on,” Brown said. “It’s irrelevant. But the resolution was not removed because I was going to vote no. We don’t need a resolution to get our property ADEM compliant. The mayor and Gerard can handle that. They do it all the time. This property needs to be ADEM compliant. We should get the soil arranged to slow down the erosion and get a good stand of grass to get ADEM compliant.”
After Monday’s meeting, council president Tim Funderburk pledged to Ledbetter the city will fix the drainage issues on its property and asserted that again Tuesday.
“We are going to take care of our problems,” Funderburk said. “Mark my words, there’s going to be something done.”
Brewer said Tuesday the city must complete the installation of a new culvert on Lafayette Street before moving a bulldozer to its property that surrounds Ledbetter’s land and that could be done by the end of next week.
“I am in agreement with Gerard’s plan,” Spraggins said. “We need to take care of this.”
Brewer said he wants to mobilize on the property as soon as possible.
“We’ve got to get Lafayette Street finished and back open,” he said. “Assuming weather isn’t an issue and there are no major emergencies, with the mayor’s approval, we can be out there (at Central Avenue and Lee Street) by the end of next week with a bulldozer.”
Brewer said city crews could move dirt and begin grading city property on both sides of Ledbetter’s parcel to arrest the runoff, including the construction of a berm, digging new ditches and shaping existing ones.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to contain it 100% but we will reduce the runoff as much as possible,” Brewer said. “We’d try to do it with labor and equipment only at first. If drains and pipes are needed at some point, we’d have to take it to the council if we had to amend the budget.”
Ledbetter acknowledged he also must correct the grade of his property to help drain water away from his warehouse. Contractor Roy Granger sold Ledbetter and the city their pieces of property then began clearing away rubble from demolished Russell Corp. buildings on city land and grading Ledbetter’s parcel.
“I’ve got to tweak my property to get a 1% slope,” Ledbetter said. “We just didn’t have the dirt. Roy’s decided now he is going to haul the dirt in. The dirt he’s bringing in doesn’t have any rocks and the city’s dirt has too many rocks.”
Part of the city’s purchase agreement with Granger required Granger to clear the city’s property of the debris and rough-grade it to match either the general contour of the land or to set the stage for additional finished grading. The city council authorized no other work on the property after it approved the purchase.
Ledbetter said the original plan for his property was for Granger to grade it 1% horizontally and 1% vertically toward Russell Road.
“But Roy ran out of dirt before it was finished,” he said.
In June, the council declined to act on a proposal brokered by late mayor Jim Nabors to give Ledbetter a half acre of city property to control drainage at the site in exchange for splitting the cost of materials to finish a large drainage ditch on the property line between the 3 acres already owned by Ledbetter and 3½ acres owned by the city. Ledbetter and the city would have paid $9,000 apiece to finish the ditch but the proposal died for lack of a second.
“We could have done it weeks ago but I couldn’t get a second,” Funderburk said.
Heavy rain July 18-19 resulted in rainwater causing damage in the basement of Ledbetter’s warehouse.
“I think everybody involved should do everything they can to alleviate the problems out there,” Brewer said.