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U’town water contractor appears before council, raises questions about city demands

On Tuesday, September 6th, Gulf Coast Underground made their appearance before the Uniontown City Council. They had been on the agenda several times prior to this meeting but had not appeared yet, leading to growing frustration from Uniontown officials. Last Tuesday, the moment of truth came and it appeared as though we would finally get some puzzling answers regarding the construction project and the concerns many had regarding it.

Coleman Miller, the head of the project for GCU took the podium and explained that he sought to ease any concerns the citizens of Uniontown might have. Needless to say, only a few seconds later he was already dealing with one, as Councilman Carlton Lewis politely asked that GCU pay a rent fee of $1,000 a month for the land where they had been parking their vehicles.

Miller was frustrated by this and cited an agreement he had made with the mayor as never having mentioned any sort of property rental fee. This caught the City Council off guard and they confronted Mayor Jones who told Miller the rent fee had been discussed after the contract had been signed. This frustrated Miller, who mentioned looking for other places to park his vehicles if this went into effect.

Mayor Jones then asked Miller about a mound of dirt that had accumulated on the property GCU was using. Mayor Jones argued that it may have been contaminated since it contained dirt that surrounded the sewage lines and he asked GCU what they planned to do about it. GCU’s Miller explained that it was extremely unlikely that the dirt there could cause any problems as it was 1:6 parts clean dirt and “contaminated” dirt and that the dirt was only there temporarily. The dirt was only being stored there while the project was still underway and the mound was placed on a concrete slab to prevent seepage into the ground.

After this, Councilman Lewis raised the question of whether GCU had a business license to operate in the City. He claimed that the City had sent the company offers many times to GCU and that GCU has yet to respond. Miller revealed that GCU in fact did have a business license they acquired through Uniontown’s third party provider, Avera. Miller said that he had wanted to go through Uniontown but they had simply sent him a Microsoft Word document containing an exorbitant price for the license and he had felt it was shady and simply gone through Avera instead.

The City Council then demanded to know if Miller had a permit to dig in the City limits.Miller stated that that was the same as a business license and if there was any other necessary documentation he was not made aware of it.

“If someone can show me something besides a Word document, such as a copy of the City ordinance page, I would be happy to get whatever documents are needed but as of right now I believe we have everything we need and I’m not paying that amount of money for something I don’t know exists.” Miller stated. He explained that the amount asked for on the Word document for the business license had asked for a much higher amount of money than what the 3rd party provider itself had charged and that he had never heard of needing one of these permits on any of the other jobs he had worked on.

The City Council repeated itself, saying a permit would be needed to dig in the City limits. Miller held his ground, explaining that since they were only digging above and around water lines, they were well within their rights to dig since they had struck a deal with the Water Board and had been granted easements that gave access to all of the water lines and the surrounding ground.

The City Council then changed the subject to repairs, asking if GCU had plans to repair the damage done to the streets. Miller stated that quite simply, there was no way they could not, as it was a USDA and ALDOT approved project and they were beholden to a performance bond and material bond. He explained that the use of crusher run and the gradual repair of the roads was in fact the proper way to repair and fix the roads. “You can’t just pour asphalt in the hole and call it a road, you have to build it up over time, which is what we’re doing.” Miller said.

Councilwoman Mimms asked what the City of Uniontown was supposed to do if the construction work GCU was doing did not last and ten years later they needed new roads or pipes. Miller spoke frankly and said that the company’s role was to put the pipes in place and get the water system going and that as far as the roads were concerned, very few construction projects were supposed to last ten years without some form of maintenance. “We have to meet our performance bond and get the work done by the conditions set, but frankly we aren’t expected to be working on this in ten years.” Miller said.

This exchange highlighted the different tone of the meeting from previous ones. Whereas in prior meetings there seemed to be a clear narrative that GCU was in the wrong, this one raised the question of whether Uniontown was simply demanding more than GCU was required to provide.