Contractor denies fault in arch collapse; pedestrian bridge expected to reopen within three months | Local News

An attorney for a contractor facing a lawsuit over the collapse of the Hickory arches said Thursday the company is not at fault for the fall of the 40-ton, $750,000 structure.

Lucie Peoples, an attorney representing Hickory-based Neill Grading & Construction Co., said the company “is not responsible for the collapse because Neill did not design, fabricate or construct the arches; it subcontracted that full scope of work to (Mooresville-based Dane Construction).”

Dane further subcontracted the design and fabrication pieces to Oregon-based Western Wood Structures.

All three companies are named in a lawsuit filed by the city of Hickory, which alleges that the only explanation for the collapse of the arches is negligence on the part of Neill Grading, Dane and Western Wood.

Peoples said the company could not say at this point which party or parties may be responsible for the collapse but they “welcome the opportunity to participate in this process, assist with identifying the responsible parties and provide an amicable resolution for all involved.”

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Neill Grading has been a major player in Hickory’s revitalization efforts in recent years. The company was awarded the $14.3 million contract with the city for the City Walk, which included the arches and pedestrian bridge.

The company performed the renovation of Union Square and was awarded a $20.8 million contract for the Aviation Walk, a component of the trail system that also includes the City Walk.

Dane and Western Wood did not respond to requests for comment as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The arches fell on Feb. 18, less than a year after they were installed. The fall damaged part of the Main Avenue Bridge, which is owned by the N.C. Department of Transportation, and damaged handrails on the Rudy Wright Pedestrian Bridge, resulting in the ongoing closure of that bridge.

Since the collapse, city leaders have prioritized recovering costs. They have pointed to a performance bond and warranty as key protections for the city.

Following Wednesday’s lawsuit filing, Hickory’s road to restitution will now run through the Catawba County courthouse.

Hickory filed the complaint Wednesday, a little more than a week after the Hickory City Council voted to empower City Manager Warren Wood and the city’s recently-hired law firm of Rosenwood, Rose & Litwak to take actions deemed necessary to protect the city’s interest.

The lawsuit alleges the negligence constituted a breach of contract for Neill Grading and with the other companies.

The city argues the contracts between Neill and Dane and Dane and Western Wood require Dane and Western Wood to compensate the city for loss and those companies have failed to do so.

The city is seeking damages of more than $25,000 and argues the city is entitled to a refund for the arches and compensation for the costs spent dealing with the damage.

Carl Burchette, the attorney representing Hickory, said the city “believes that this lawsuit is necessary to bring the parties — including their multiple insurance companies — into a process to determine the cause of and responsibility for the arch failure.”

Burchette said Neill Grading and Dane have agreed to reopen the bridge and estimate they would be able to do so within three months.

“The city is encouraged by the response from Neill and Dane in repairing the Rudy Wright Bridge, but the city is still not made whole from the incident and Neill and Dane have acknowledged this fact,” Burchette said.

Kevin Griffin is the city of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.