It's been nearly two months since many motorists experienced a sticky situation on Lufkin's Loop 287. It left nearly 600 cars with damage from tar that lifted from the road after heavy rains. However, it didn't take long before word spread of the damage through news outlets and social media.
KTRE has obtained pages of correspondence from the Texas Department of Transportation through open records requests. TxDOT complied with the request without appeal. It revealed how they worked to get the right message out as claims denial letters were mailed out.
In one email, as the department prepared a statement, it shows communication director Jess Blackburn seeking guidance on how to address the public and media of their claims for damages.
"We are getting hit hard on social media and receiving media inquires for a response to the denial of claims people are now receiving. Initially we referred people to the contractor and our claims process. The contractor on this project is no longer taking calls," Blackburn stated.
The contractor Blackburn is referring to Clark Construction.
In another email, Blackburn seeks input from Rhonda Oaks, a spokesperson for TXDOT, stating "I don't think we're going to avoid getting a black eye on this. Or maybe a blacker eye."
TxDOT said on September 12, that under state law, the agency cannot be held responsible for damages from the road conditions. The agency added that not all of these will result in actual damage claims, but most will by the Occupational Safety Division in Austin. However, it is up to the customer to initiate the claim online and provide proof of damages and receipts for repairs.
In another thread of emails, an administrative assistant from the Angelina County Sheriffs Office asked how to remove the "large blobs of tar in the jail parking lot." Oaks replied by stating crews were scheduling the clean-ups and said, " I don't know at this point whether it will be Clark Construction who does your cleanup or TxDOT. I wish I could tell you when, but I don't know that either."
Regardless, at least one resident is upset with the sticky situation.
"I felt that TxDOT in many ways let everyone down by this letter stating that they can't do anything about it," said Francine Sharp, a woman who paid out of her pocket to fix her car.
TxDOT responded Monday and said, "We have been completely open, honest and transparent regarding the occurrence on August 31 on Loop 287 East in Lufkin. We have been transparent on this issue since Day 1."