DOBSON — Allegations of fraud in the firm responsible for engineering the Interstates Sewer Project have placed a hiccup on the project, but county officials say a more concrete plan is forthcoming.
The problem, according to County Manager Chris Knopf, is that there appears to be a break-up under way at Hobbs Upchurch Associates, the Southern Pines-based engineering firm responsible for design and permitting of the planned $4.5 million gravity and force-main system.
While Knopf is playing his cards close to his vest regarding why numerous engineers and grant administrators left the firm, information found online indicates that the firm has been the subject of an investigation alleging improper conduct by Hobbs Upchurch & Associates.
During its meeting on Sept. 15, 2011, the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors authorized “an investigation to determine if Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, P.A., may be in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct….”
The Board of Examiners oversees the work of the state’s engineers and surveyors.
“The allegations pertain to the firm providing fraudulent, false or misleading information on Yadkin County’s 2010 Community Development Block Grant Economic Recovery Grant application,” a notice of the investigation reads.
The notice goes on to allege that “a Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, P.A. employee(s) falsified signatures on income and need surveys submitted with the application.
“Additionally, it is alleged that a Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, P.A., employee(s) fabricated the 2010 Selection Committee description and meeting minutes submitted with the 2010 Community Development Block Grant Economic Recovery Grant application.”
Representatives from the firm have vigorously denied the allegations, according to published reports, and no formal charges have been lodged against the company.
Knopf said the firm was hired by the county well before the investigation began.
“Our engineering, design and permitting agreement (for the Interstates Sewer Project) was entered into in August, 2008,” he said. “Well before any allegations were made.”
On the county level, Knopf said he plans to present the board of commissioners with plenty of options for its next move, regardless of whether the commissioners choose to continue with Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates.
“I want to make sure that whatever we decide to do, we’ve looked at every detail and considered every option,” he said, noting that it’s going to take a little time. “That involves us taking a look back at what’s been accomplished in this project, but at the same time, we’re developing other options in the event we decide to go with another firm.”
But Knopf noted that the decision ultimately rests with the board of commissioners.
“At this point, the board will have to make the decision, but they need to have as many options on the table as possible,” he said.
Knopf said he plans to update the board during its regular meeting Monday night on any new developments.
“My intent, regardless, is to have an update on the sewer project at every meeting between now and some kind of resolution,” he said.
And confidential obligations placed in the county’s contract with the firm could play into any decision.
“My hope is that within the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to talk about it, but right now, we’re trying to ascertain where we are,” Knopf said. “There are some contractual issues we’re working through right now that keep us from forming a concrete action plan at this point.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.