ASHE COUNTY-Fleetwood Fire Department is playing the waiting game.
The volunteer base is awaiting final word from the N.C. Department of Transportation on how and when the ongoing widening of U.S. 221 will affect the firehouse.
Ultimately, the department will be forced to move to make room for the road, but the fire department’s oversight board doesn’t know where their next home will be or when the move will be finalized.
State highway officials have also remained tight lipped on just how much money would be given for the Fleetwood Fire Department building.
Rick Surber Chairman of the Board for the fire department also declined to give specifics of the offer, but said the board has not accepted it.
“It’s not a very good offer especially when you compare it to what they’ve offered other people along the way,” said Surber. “It’s not even the tax value.”
According to county property records available online, the building and land the firehouse sits on were valued at nearly $238,000 in January 2015, the conclusion of the county’s last property revaluation.
Surber said the department has examined a few other options for possible relocation, but are far from making a concrete decision.
“In the meantime, we have to operate under a pretty good burden,” said Surber.
Daneil Miles, who is overseeing the right-of-way acquisition process for the project, confirmed the N.C. Department of Transportation is in the process of negotiating a possible settlement for the piece of property, but would not disclose a possible monetary range.
“We typically don’t discuss that when it comes to a settlement,” she said.
If both parties can not negotiate a settlement, the piece of property would likely go into condemnation, which is the government taking of private property for a legitimate public use.
Fleetwood has not been presented for condemnation, said state highway officials.
Surber said he anticipates meeting with the DOT in the coming weeks in order to learn more specifics, including a final move-out date.
The DOT does not anticipate bidding the section of highway that contains the firehouse out until next spring.
Fire officials are also hampered by how far they are allowed to move from their current location due to existing fire district lines and insurance lines.
Those guidelines were established by county commissioners and the N.C. General Assembly, said Surber.
Due to the progress of construction as of late, the NCDOT has scaled back their target date of completion for the entirety of the widening project.
A rough estimate currently pins completion around 2023.
“That would be a pretty fair estimate,” said Project Manager Trent Beaver.
Although winter weather has slowed construction to a standstill, Beaver said crews are poised to recommence the project in earnest in the spring.
“The section from N.C. 194 to (N.C.) 163 is about 26 percent complete,” said Beaver. “It is on schedule.”
On the other end of the highway, crews are still in the process of clearing land, structure demolition and utilities’ relocation.
This section, known by crews as the A and B cluster, runs from the intersection of U.S. 421 in Deep Gap to just north of the South Fork of the New River.
Both sections are currently being contracted to Vannoy’s Construction.
The middle section, C, is a different story. It runs from north of the New River to the intersection of N.C. 194 in Baldwin.
“That is tentatively scheduled for October let date (for bids),” said Beaver. “Currently, right of way acquisition is taking place for that part.”
This particular section of roadway and earth will present a daunting challenge for engineers.
“If you look at the topography of C section, you can tell it’s definitely more involved than any other section,” said Beaver. “Usually, you have either a mountain or a stream (on either side of the road) anywhere you go. Typically, we try to avoid stream relocation.”
Highway officials are still planning the last phase of the project, E Section, which will run from N.C. 163 to N.C. 88 in east Jefferson. That project is scheduled to let in 2019, said Beaver.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.