LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An internal email to TxDOT employees may provide an idea on how the agency and the construction company plan to respond to drivers filing claims for damage from road construction on Aug. 31 on the Lufkin loop.
KTRE has obtained all correspondence, including text messages and emails, regarding the incident, from TxDOT as part of the Public Information Act. The request included correspondence between the dates of Aug. 1, 2017, and Sept. 6, 2017, regarding Clark Construction and Loop 287.
TxDOT was forced to close the east side of Loop 287 on Aug. 31 after melted tar began sticking to drivers' tires. According to TxDOT spokeswoman Rhonda Oaks, rain from Tropical Storm Harvey kept the sealing of the road from drying properly. On that Thursday, the seal melted when the sun came up and began sticking to the tires.
TxDOT shut down the road, but not before hundreds of drivers had found their vehicles nearly undriveable. About 600 people have filed damage claims with TxDOT.
In an email at 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 31, from Nicole Al-Sayed to Lufkin District Engineer Cheryl Flood, employees are instructed to refer citizens to the contact page, where they can file a complaint.
Al-Sayed states in the email that TxDOT would then provide a standard denial letter with a copy of the Texas Tort Claims Act.
Al-Sayed then states Clark Construction will likely also deny the claims as the event would be classified as an "Act of God." Clark Construction is the company awarded the construction bid.
"We can explain to the citizen that because the proximate cause of this failure was from a listed peril: windstorm, hail, water, or flood and that the citizen should be able to file a claim with their carrier. Of course, the citizen would need to have Comprehensive Coverage on their Personal Automobile Policy," Al-Sayed explains.
On Aug. 31, many drivers complained they could not reach Clark Construction through the number provided by TxDOT. Many had called before Aug. 31, due to loose rock being kicked onto their windshields.
An email from Rhonda Oaks, the public information officer for the Lufkin District, to Johnnie Pouland, the maintenance office manager for Angelina County, addresses that issue.
"...in order to do this like Austin wants it done we must make sure the customer has the information on the yellow sheet...That way, we are covered and have done what we can to provide the customer relief. Just giving them Clark's phone number is not going to work and they are not documented correctly. In fact, the last person I spoke with said she has tried numerous times to reach Clark Construction and they simply are not answering. So, you see the dilemma. The customer has to have another route they can go, and that is the information on the yellow sheet when we create a tort case that will put them in touch with Austin."
The "yellow sheet" Oaks references is included in the correspondence KTRE obtained. It contains information citizens should follow in order to file a claim for damages.
Editor's note: The preceding story is one in a series regarding the Lufkin loop incident on Aug. 31. Related stories can be found on this page.