Bunker Hill Cover Bridge

The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge in Claremont.

A construction company says they did not get paid for their work at the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge historic site. Now, the company is suing the Historical Association of Catawba County for pay.

The historical association hired NHM Constructors, a contractor group out of Asheville, to make repairs after flooding damaged the historic bridge property and caused erosion around the bridge.

The bridge was damaged by rain and thunderstorms in July 2013 that caused flooding across the region. A state and national state of emergency was declared for several counties, including Catawba County. The rains washed out roads and bridges, and started erosion under the Bunker Hill bridge, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant awarded to the association for the repairs.

Work to repair the erosion started Jan. 5, 2019, according to the lawsuit filed by NHM Constructors in December 2019. The repairs to the slope damage around the bridge were to be done by March 15, according to a November 2018 letter sent to William Neuman, at NHM Constructors, from Amber Albert, former executive director of the historical association. The letter was included in the lawsuit.

NHM Constructors finished the work, which included rock and soil placement and building a wall to prevent erosion, on June 27, but the company claims it is still owed money, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit does not specify what, if any payment, NHM Constructors received from the historical association.

NHM says the historical association owes them $408,000. If it isn’t paid, NHM Constructors wants the property foreclosed and sold and the profits given to them for payment.

“(NHM Constructors) has made demand upon (the historical association) for payment, but (the historical association) has refused and failed to pay,” the lawsuit stated.

David Hood, the lawyer representing the historical association, said the association does not believe it owes NHM Constructors any money. NHM Constructors exceeded the original cost laid out in the bid without approval from the historical association, Hood said in an emailed statement.

“NHM had a bid price,” Hood said. “They have exceeded that price ... and now want us to pay them that amount after the fact.”

A response from the historical association will be filed by mid-February, he said in an email. The association was served with the lawsuit in January and filed for an extension to respond to the complaint that is pending approval.

“Our firm is carefully reviewing the project documents and discussing with relevant witnesses all the details of what happened here,” Hood said.

NHM Constructors filed a lien on the property for their money Oct. 21, 2019. When the money wasn’t paid, NHM filed suit, the lawsuit said.

The historical association was given a grant of about $250,000 by FEMA for flood-damage repairs in 2014, which was later increased to about $900,000 to cover all costs, according to a memorandum from Catawba County. The association has been given $670,000 of the grant, according to Keith Acree, public information officer for the North Carolina Emergency Management Division.

In a memorandum of understanding between the county and the historical association, Catawba County agreed to lend up to $400,000 to help the historical association cover costs until the full amount of the grant is released. The county loaned the association $284,078, Catawba County Communications and Marketing Director Amy McCauley said.

The project was supposed to be complete by the end of 2019 and the county expected to be paid back at that point, but the memorandum was extended to give the historical association until July 2020 to complete the project. The association has until December 2020 to repay the county.

Acree said the project is expected to be completed by the end of January.

NHM Constructors declined to speak to the Hickory Daily Record.

Hood did not comment further on the details of the case.

“Otherwise let me just say, I do not think it is right to try the case in newspaper articles,” he said. “We take this situation very seriously. We also have faith in the legal system.”

Bo Teague, executive director of the historical association, said he didn’t have enough information to answer questions about the situation.

A call to NHM Constructors’ lawyer, James Johnson of Smith Terry Johnson and Windle in Asheville, was not returned.

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