Rincon’s nearly completed pump house on 17th Street was partially bulldozed sometime between Sunday evening and Monday morning. The west end of the building had been taken down, with brick scattered around the area.
A new generator, still in its protective tarp was just inches away from the fallen structure. Ironically, the portion of the building that was knocked down seems to be just the portion that falls on Herman Woods’ property.
The damage was discovered Monday about 7:20 a.m. by two members of the city’s public works department. The bulldozer was removed from the property and taken to be processed as evidence. According to Rincon Police, a search warrant was issued as part of the investigation.
The building has been the subject of controversy recently as Woods, the property owner, has disputed the city’s right to build on his land. Effingham County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner issued a stop-work order to the city on July 10 but lifted that order after a hearing Aug. 6.
According to Mayor Ken Lee, Woods came to the site Aug. 7 at 1 p.m. with a bulldozer and threatened to tear the building down himself until confronted by Rincon Police Chief Mike Bohannon.
Woods’ attorney Rick Rafter declined to comment on the incident, adding he wants to wait until the investigation goes forward. Rafter has filed an appeal of Turner’s Aug. 7 decision and is trying to get an expedited hearing to keep the restraining order in place until the case can go before the state Supreme Court.
While the property that the pump house has been constructed on may be in dispute, Rincon Fire Chief, Corey Rahn said that the city does have a written easement for the driveway on the property.
“This is a written easement we have with the fire department through IP, before it changed hands to Mr. Woods, and it carries,” he said.
The easement was granted back in 1990-91 when the fire department building was erected.
“This driveway is a fire department driveway,” Bohannon said. “Rincon’s Fire Department has been using it for years.”
The property in question is approximately 15x20 feet and was a small grassy patch that they city had maintained for years until its recent sale by International Paper.
City investigators were out Monday morning looking over the site and taking photographs. Investigators said that the bulldozer parked on Woods’ property was still warm when they looked at it, and they also noted the visible muddy tracks leading directly from the building to the bulldozer, which sat nearby.
They said there was even brick lying on the bulldozer itself.
According to police, the bulldozer is not city property.
Lee said the bulldozer’s presence on Woods’ property indicates that it belongs to Woods and it appears that someone attempted to bring down the portion of the building that encroaches on his property.
“In doing that, there’s damage to the structure of the entire building,” Lee said. “It would appear the damage is greater than just the part that came down. It’s very likely that the entire building may have to be taken down.”
The mayor said the city would get a structural engineer to inspect the remainder of the building.
Lee said that the city’s building onto Woods’ property had not been an intentional act on their part. He said that as soon as Woods determined the city was building on his property, he took legal action.
“As far as I understand, there wasn’t an opportunity to resolve it with him,” Lee said.
The expansion of the pump house is part of a project to meet the state Environmental Protection Division’s directive to upgrade the city’s water system and is worried now that this incident might throw them off the EPD’s timeline.
“However we can resolve this to the satisfaction of Mr. Woods and the city, I would hope that would be accomplished,” Lee said.