What’s a half million dollars in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s multibillion-dollar budget? Not much. But people have reason to worry that a small-scale fiasco in Wythe County, in which a $15,000 liability involving a local farmer, mushroomed into a $505,000 liability, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ten years ago, recounts The Roanoke Times, VDOT expanded an Interstate 77 bridge over the New River, cutting a swath through Edd Jennings’ farm. During the project, construction crews left a mound of debris under the bridge that caused $15,000 in flood damage.
The details of exactly what happened next are fuzzy, but this much seems clear. VDOT refused to compensate Jennings for the full damage. Jennings hired an attorney. The case dragged out and legal bills piled up. And Jennings finally won the case. VDOT paid Jennings $225,000 for inconvenience caused by the construction, $187,200 to his attorney, and tens of thousands in other expenses.
“Most landowners have no idea how vulnerable they are and how few rights they have,” Jennings said in 2010 interview. “They will say things like, ‘This is America. This can’t happen here.’”
This is Virginia. These kinds of things can happen here. In defense of the current VDOT administration, the original incident did take place 10 years ago. But I can’t help but wonder how much bureaucratic obstinance is costing taxpayers money in instances we never hear about.