A Beaufort County employee volunteering on a private church project sunk a county-owned piece of heavy construction equipment in a pond while trying to free another machine over Memorial Day weekend.
The public works employee was working on a retention pond as a volunteer at Meadowbrook Baptist Church on Lady's Island when the bulldozer he was using began sinking Friday night, interim county administrator Josh Gruber said.
The employee called Gruber, who authorized him to use a county excavator to try to save the bulldozer, Gruber said. The excavator then got struck in the mud and water during an attempt to free the bulldozer.
Gruber said the bulldozer was privately owned by a rental company and has no association with the county. He said the county loaned its machine with the expectation it be returned in the same condition and that no public money would be used on potential repair or replacement costs.
A county contractor is assessing cost estimates and the extent of damage to the county machine, Gruber said.
"Once I find that out, we're going to make sure the county is made whole," he said.
Gruber said he made the call allowing the public equipment to be used because of the emergency circumstance and lack of alternatives.
"These were folks trying to do a good thing who got into a bad situation," he said. "When you look at it in terms of what is the right thing to be done, that is the call I made."
Private contractors with a crane and excavators worked most of the day Saturday to free both machines, said Walter Oliver, owner of Oliver's Bushhogging.
Gruber said he didn't learn until after the weekend the county machine had been stuck and that he had not spoken to the church.
Contacted Wednesday, Oliver said he had not yet heard from the county or church about his bill for the work, which he expects to be about $2,000. The crane equipment from Certified Crane Service could be thousands more, he said.
Meadowbrook pastor Michael Coxwell said Wednesday he wasn't sure who is ultimately responsible for the machines and recovery costs. A team of volunteers secured the equipment to widen the retention pond as the church prepares to build a new sanctuary, he said.
"We as a church are just grateful for the help on our project of building a new sanctuary," Coxwell said in a text message. "God has really blessed us with growth, and seeing people come to Christ."
Oliver said water poured from the county excavator's engine compartment after dirt was dug out from around it Saturday. Photos show the machine with mud halfway up the cab.
Tommy O'Brien said a family member at the church called him during dinner Friday to say a bulldozer had been stuck and asking to use O'Brien's personal backhoe, O'Brien said. The backhoe wasn't able to free the bulldozer and was returned to O'Brien late Friday night, he said.
Gruber said there is no county policy specific to the use of the machine and that county equipment had not been used to work on the project before it was needed Friday night.