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Collapsed retaining wall leads to questions about $320,000 football field

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FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WIS) -

Fairfield County taxpayers are demanding answers after finding out the county spent more than $300,000 on a football field. Over the weekend, a $40,000 retaining wall at the field crumbled to the ground.

The county finished construction four months ago, but the field still isn't finished.

The people we spoke with say they don't want another dime spent on this project and want those responsible for spending the money on the field to explain why Fairfield County needed it.

"I bet I told 50 people that wall was coming down," said former Fairfield County Councilman William Turner.

"What just ticks me off, I'm a taxpayer in this county and I just see y'all wave your arms and just -- I'm taking a $4,000 check down there today to pay taxes and see it wasted like this? That's what just disturbs me," said Fairfield County citizen Clyde Wade.

Fairfield County Administrator Milton Pope got a dressing down when he showed up to inspect the wall collapse at the county park Monday morning.

A huge section of a cinder block retaining wall fell over and took with it a fence taxpayers spent more than $40,000 to put up.

Pope gave his workers his initial assessment as soon as he walked up:

"Unless they didn't follow the plans right, it's built right," said Pope. "It just didn't give it, the wall, the time to pack before it got all that water in it.

Pope put the blame squarely on Mother Nature's shoulders.

"As everyone knows, we have an enormous amount of rain and saturation and I would assume that that led to the problem -- some of the problems -- with the wall," said Pope.

But Wade and Turner told Pope rain shouldn't have caused the wall's collapse if it were constructed properly.

Six months ago, commercial developer Wanda Carnes warned the county that the wall wasn't built correctly. She says that warning fell on deaf ears.

Carnes was on the county's planning commission until she resigned last month.

The reason? She says the county has a habit of spending tax dollars on projects without following the rules -- rules like having engineered plans so things like the retaining wall's collapse don't happen.

"So, I went and asked for copies of the plans to prove this has been built to specifications," said Carnes. "There is no plans."

Carnes is correct, there were no engineered plans drawn up for this project until long after it was finished. On Thursday morning, the county handed us its engineered plans for the retaining wall. Those plans were just created 12 days ago -- four months after the project was finished.

We found out Pope wasn't the one who approved the project. In fact, no one on county council did either. County records show former administrator Phil Hinley signed the approvals without taking a single bid on the $320,000 project. We tried to ask Fairfield County Chairman David Ferguson about how that was allowed to happen.

Ferguson denied a request for an interview and had no comment when we found him across the street from the county office.

Our investigation found the Irmo contracting firm, S2 Engineering, was responsible for the project. S2's owner, Sam Savage, met with the county Monday. We tried to talk with him after the meeting.

Savage denied doing the contract work on the football field, saying his firm was merely the project manager of the job.

We went to the address listed for S2's offices and it came back to a neighborhood in Irmo. The only sign of the company was the tag on the front of a truck.

We also learned Sam Savage and S2 engineering are under state investigation after someone filed a complaint with regulators regarding the work in Fairfield County.

Savage did admit the state's Labor, Licensing, and Regulation Department had contacted him about an investigation and that he'd turned over any information they asked for. However, he said he hasn't heard anything else.

"Based on what I saw, I'm not worried about that," said Savage.

Wanda Carnes says the wall and the way the county handled the football field project is reason to take another look at every project S2 Engineering has handled in Fairfield County.

"If we lacked the intelligence of seeing this in our own backyard -- we're less than two blocks from county council chambers -- This is a large county. What else have we neglected," said Carnes.

With the wall's collapse, the worry immediately turned to the unfinished football field, which some taxpayers fear will drive up the cost for this project to near $500,000.

"There's no lights on this field and I was told there wasn't going to be any lights and you're not going to put up a football field like that and not have lights -- no scoreboard, no goal posts -- our point is, what's this field going to cost us in the end," asked Turner.

The county says it still doesn't know what caused this wall to fall or how much it'll cost to repair it. The piece of good news is the county says the contractor will pay to repair this wall and not taxpayers.

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