It's been an interesting year at Inquirer Central

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 29, 2013 

It was an interesting year at Inquirer Central. We had a slow-motion landslide that got the mayor's attention, a dangerous situation on the RiverWalk, a mysterious leak in the middle of a road and various other situations that needed fixing. And we had a few strike outs.

Here are my Top Ten favorite Inquirers of 2013:

Landslide!

Cornelia Johnson and her neighbors on Valley Crest Drive were having a large hill behind their houses slowly sliding down into their yards and in a couple of cases up against their homes.

It seems a grading company did a poor job with preparing the subdivision land. The company came back out and put in some drains, but that did nothing, the neighbors said.

At one point, we had Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Councilor Bruce Huff, Deputy City Manager David Arrington and Director of Engineering Donna Newman out there. Looked like an outdoor Council meeting.

In the end, there was nothing the city could do in a private dispute between the contractors and the neighbors. But last I heard, the construction and grading contractors put up $5,000 each to repair the damage.

Slippery bridge on RiverWalk

It took a while, but what was a very dangerous situation on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk got repaired.

Back in June, we reported that the so-called "covered bridge" on the RiverWalk near the National Civil War Naval Museum was, as one of my more rural cousins likes to say, "Slicker'n deer guts on a doorknob."

The pressure-treated pine surface of the bridge didn't drain, so standing water and a lot of shade led to mold and slick algae growth. Well, after much planning and research, the city contracted with an outfit and pressure-washed the beejeebers out of the surface and coated it with a non-slip epoxy surface that is anything but slick. They also drilled hundreds, if not thousands, of weep holes to allow water to drain.

Mysterious leak

Back in April, Concerned Reader Patti Stone called to report a puzzler. In the middle of her street, Larry Drive, a slow but constant flow of water was coming up through the pavement. She said a neighbor had called the Water Works, but nothing ever came of that.

"It's been going on for months now, and I'm afraid if the ground is eroding under the street, it could eventually cave in," Stone said.

Turns out it was a Water Works problem and they had the street dug up, repaired and patched pronto.

A worthwhile project

Back in May, I was beaten to the punch by a Boy Scout.

A Concerned Reader had called to tell me about an old cemetery that needed some attention. It's the old Shiloh Cemetery on Double Churches Road near Whitesville. I put it on my list of things to check out, but before I got around to it, a young Boy Scout, Travis Finney, had taken on the cleanup as his Eagle Scout project.

For two months, Finney and some of his fellow Troop 2 scouts and other volunteers cleared brush, killed weeds, cleaned and righted headstones and brought the old cemetery, for lack of a better term, back to life.

During his work, he discovered that the cemetery is the resting place of a Revolutionary War veteran Capt. Philemon Hodges of the North Carolina Militia and at least two Civil War veterans (of the Confederate persuasion, naturally).

Good work, Travis!

'Over-engineered'

Lula Botts' yard slopes down from Pyburn Street to her house, and she was having trouble with erosion. So she called the city.

A crew came out and installed an asphalt monstrosity in her otherwise attractive yard. It was a six feet wide by 12-15 feet long strip of blacktop.

"I never dreamed that they would do something like this," she said. "I cried for two days."

I called Public Works Director Pat Biegler, and she said she'd look into it.

She called back and said her first reaction was, "Well, that's over-engineered."

"It eliminated the woman's erosion and flooding problems," Biegler said. "But face it, that's just ugly."

Biegler said she would send another crew out to do the job right, which they did.

Miller Road eyesore

I had ridden past the dilapidated house at 5327 Miller Road countless times without noticing it, until Concerned Reader Sandy called it in.

"No one has lived in it for some time," Sandy said. "It has broken windows and is just dilapidated. I wish the city would tear it down."

Instead, the city's Inspections and Code department contacted the owner, inspected the house and gave him a list of things he'd have to do to bring the house back up to code.

That was in August.

In November, my phone rang and I'm not sure whether it was Sandy, but she was a Happy Caller.

"That house is gone," she said. "It's just completely gone!"

Burned out on Buckhorn

Frustrated Reader Hugh Busby was tired of the view from his yard.

Across the street, at 6940 Buckhorn Drive in north Columbus, a partially burned house has sat partially covered with a bright blue tarp for several months.

I called the real estate agent listed on the sign out front and he said he understood the neighbors' frustration, but did say he had a buyer who had made an offer. He expected the new owner to get work crews on the job ASAP.

The house appears to have been repaired, and it's back on the market, in case you're house shopping.

A couple of strike outs

Things don't always work out for us at Inquirer Central.

Take for example the case of Weathers Storage out on Ford Drive just off St. Marys Road.

A large sinkhole had opened up on the property, caused by a leaking rainwater drain pipe running from a street-side rain drain across his property. Bob Weathers, the owner, figured since the water was running off a city street, it was their problem.

No, the city said. It's your property, so it's your problem, they said.

Weathers said he considered suing the city, but figured it wasn't worth it.

"They know it would cost us too much to go to court," Weathers said. "They have lawyers who will drag things out to the point we couldn't afford it. That's what they're counting on."

Weathers said contractors have said it would cost him about $50,000 to patch the problem up, but close to $300,000 to replace the entire pipe.

Then there was the case of a small group of Habitat for Humanity houses on 23rd Street in East Highlands, whose owners had to walk to a communal bank of mail boxes instead of getting mail delivered to their houses, like everyone else on the street.

What gives, Habitat Executive Director Brinkley Pound wanted to know.

After going in circles locally, I finally got an explanation from a U.S. Postal Service spokesman (in Texas).

He said the local postal service has a policy to use what are called Cluster Box Units (CBUs, in the trade) in areas of new construction.

"Factors considered include customer convenience, the aesthetics of the area, and the economy of Postal operations," he wrote.

"Because central delivery is the most cost effective means of mail delivery, the Postal Service prefers to use this method whenever appropriate."

Then, to make up for the inconvenience, the Postal Service raised their rates again.

And finally

At the risk of tooting the Inquirer's own horn, in May, from the nice folks at the Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission invited me to their annual awards luncheon at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. Their board had voted to present the 2013 Individual Community Improvement Award to The Inquirer.

Usually the only awards journalists get are from other journalists (and truth be told even we don't give a damn what we think). So I was very honored.

Seen something that needs attention? Contact me at 706-571-8570 or mowen@ledger-enquirer.com.

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