NEWTON, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)– FOX 46 is digging deeper into claims a Duke Energy construction project in Newton badly damaged a home 300 feet away.
“It sounded like General Patton going through our den with his platoon of tanks,” said John McCouliff.
The rumblings and shaking felt at McCouliff’s 70-year-old Catawba County cottage in April, he said, felt like an “earthquake.” The vibrations, heard on multiple videos, smashed an 18th century Chinese vase and damaged a 400-year-old Dutch painting, McCouliff said. It also “reopened” old cracks in his basement, and made them worse, according to a building engineer contacted by FOX 46 who inspected the property.
Since January, McCouliff has documented the decibels and the damage, which includes “hundreds of feet” of cracks along his basement walls that leak when it rains.
“We have never seen water like this,” McCouliff is heard saying in one video.
FOX 46 asked Richard Moore, with Moore Hackney Associates in Charlotte, to inspect the damage. Moore is a licensed building engineer with more than 30 years of experience.
“It’s starting to fail,” said Moore, after inspecting McCouliff’s basement walls for more than an hour.
With a tape measurer, camera, level, and flashlight, Moore is shining a light on what’s going on. The cracked and bowing walls pre-date Duke Energy’s construction, he said. The vibrations, however, likely “reopened” the cracks and made them worse, Moore said.
“It’s clear in my mind those cracks, both horizontal and vertical, have reopened at a number of locations and have reopened pretty recently,” said Moore.
The cracks, he said, are a symptom or a larger problem.
“It looks like this has been an ongoing issue with the soil pressure against the basement walls, pushing inwards, and causing the basement walls to bow,” Moore said. “It looks like, over time, they’ve been patched and repaired but have newly opened up again. And, so, the problem is how long the basement walls can support and keep the soil from pushing inward. And, ultimately, if it were to continue, those walls might collapse in the basement.”
“The wall is moving, and it may be a number of years before that could collapse,” Moore said.
Duke Energy proposed paying nearly $11,000 to make repairs. Moore says what was proposed – an “epoxy injection” to fill in the cracks of the hollow block basement walls – won’t solve the underlying problem.
“I’m not sure it’s unsafe,” he said of the current condition of the walls, which are bowing. “But, it’s an ongoing problem that is not going to self-correct and is not going to get better with a cosmetic-type fix.”
Duke Energy would not discuss what compensation the company may offer the family.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” said Duke Energy spokesperson Meghan Miles. “And we’ve been working for weeks to reach a reasonable solution in order to give them peace of mind.”
Miles says a seismograph, which could have measured the vibration levels to minimize the impact, was not used.
“The video shows the home vibrating and shaking,” said FOX 46 reporter Matt Grant. “Is that acceptable and normal in these situations?”
“We’ve been evaluating this project,” said Miles. “And that’s why we’ve been sending an engineer out there to look at the property and really determine what happened there. And we’re continuing to investigate it and worth with the property owner to reach a resolution.”
Miles says they kept McCouliff informed about the project. Letters provided to FOX 46 by Duke Energy show he was told about the construction but was only warned about the potential for “temporary traffic delays.” There is no mention that he and his girlfriend could experience intense vibrations that would shake his home.
“They scared the living daylights out of us,” said McCouliff, who wished they would have been given a warning so they could have secured their valuables.
He says Duke Energy never surveyed his basement before the construction began. After complaining, he says the company sent an engineer to inspect his home. He has never been given a copy of that report. A site survey was conducted, according to Miles, along with “other pre-construction activities” before work began.
“It just seems like a lot of this is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “Why don’t I get to know who did this to my house? How they did it? What did it? Why won’t they tell me? What are they trying to hide”
For now, he’s glad to know the root of the problem. He thanked FOX 46 and Moore for helping him get answers.
“It gives me a little more peace of mind,” he said.
The only question now is how to fix it and who should pay. The Aunt Hill substation is expected to be finished this fall.
Duke Energy Response:
In addition to an on-camera interview, Duke Energy spokesperson Meghan Miles provided FOX 46 with the following information about the project.
The substation will be “approximately 300 feet from the property owner, on property Duke Energy has owned since 1967,” Miles said. “There will be times when construction equipment and activities will be in closer proximity to the property owner, especially as we upgrade our existing equipment on our property.”
“A seismograph was not used for the project however a site survey was conducted as well as other pre-construction activities,” Miles said.
Construction on the substation began in January and will continue until it is in service in the fall of 2020.
“Generally,” she said, “substations typically serve thousands of customers.”
“The issue is now a complaint with the Public Staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission,” said Miles, “and we will also work through that process to reach a resolution. I do not have any additional details to share as we work through this process.”
“As for questions related to the property owner,” she said, “we plan to address this situation directly with them.”
“I do not have a specific number of customers it will serve but Duke Energy made a commitment to improve reliability and add additional energy capacity to serve current and future customers in this area,” said Miles, “and this project delivers on that commitment.”
“Substations are critical to meeting the energy needs of homes, schools, businesses as well as critical infrastructure like hospitals and other emergency services both now and in the future,” said Miles. “The substation being constructed is part of our efforts to improve reliability for area customers. As the community continues to grow, we must upgrade and expand the energy infrastructure to power the community, and substations are a necessary part of the growth process and a necessary component of the electrical system.”
“We will continue to work directly with the neighboring property owner to investigate and to address concerns,” she added, “while also balancing the many important factors relating to this project, including safety, reliability, and what is the least impactful on the overall community.”