County will fund road repair

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has determined that a Pike County road that collapsed Thursday is not eligible for federal assistance.

The damage to Tennille Road (County Road 4430) did not meet the state’s threshold according to County Engineer Russell Oliver.

The commission unanimously passed an emergency resolution to allow the department to expedite the process of finding a solution to bring before the commission.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Commissioner Charlie Harris, District 5, said he believes the culvert failed due to the county spraying and killing vegetation on roadsides, something the county implemented in February to save money on mowing.

“There’s erosion all over this county on the right-of-way and it’s going to do the same thing to other culverts. Spraying is killing all the grass and there’s nothing slowing the water down… We’ve got to get control of it because it’s killing the grass and everything and when the rain comes, we’re having these big erosions. When you get the grass out of the way, the water came flooding in.”

Oliver told Harris that the spraying would not be related to the failure of the culvert. Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, said that the culverts are approximately 60 years old and that this could be the result of years of undetected erosion.

“Let’s just put the apples where they are; I’m not going to sugarcoat anything,” Harris said. “Just don’t say anything to us to try to sugarcoat it and make us believe something. I honestly believe spraying helped cause some of this damage in the county. It kills everything…

“It’s all coming I believe from spraying and killing all the vegetation that’s there. Water is stronger than the dirt that was there and the water’s got to go somewhere; it picked the weakest spot and that’s in those culverts.”

“We started spraying, what, 10 months ago?” Copeland asked Oliver.

“We started in February so it would be eight months,” Johnson said.

“You’re sitting here trying to tell me I’m telling a lie,” Harris responded.

“Regardless of what caused this, old age erosion or because of spraying, we have 23 other culverts on a maintenance list,” Copeland said. “We have had four or five drainage failures in the past 12 months. What are we doing to try to accelerate looking into this to keep it from happening again?”

“Ironically, that same day we had just begun a countywide maintenance project to address this issue,” Oliver said. He explained that the road department is looking at the 23 remaining “box-drain” culverts in the county to see what can be done to counteract against erosion. Oliver said these box-drain designs eventually stopped being made because of the potential structural issues they cause.

Oliver said the only way to truly get ahead of the failures is increased revenue for the department.

“We’ve been telling our story for years: we’re still operating on 1992 revenues,” Oliver said. “Of course, you (the commission) don’t have authority to raise revenue. But for many years we’ve been telling this story and nothing has been done– this is one of those things that over the last 10 or 15 years, in order to adjust with ever-increasing expenditures due to inflation, we’ve had to cut our equipment fleet and workforce. We’re at an all-time low personnel at the road department.

“My point is, we know there are maintenance issues with culverts and roads that need to be replaced we have not been able to address.”

The commission unanimously adopted a plan that may assist the road department with revenue Monday night.

Copeland and Johnson introduced a 24-month plan to cut back debt and provide up to $1.2 million in funding for local roads, which can’t be repaired by federal funding.

“Zero dollars have been dedicated to local roads for the past ten years,” Johnson said after the meeting.

Over half the money would come from the road and bridge fund, which has been dedicated to retiring debt in the ten-year plan the county started in 2007. The fund generates approximately $385,000 annually. ¢90,000 more would come from savings based on a planned reduction in the labor force of the road department and $125,00 will be dedicated from the general fund.

The debt reduction portion of the plan would be to retire the 2010 general obligation warrant (or loan) totaling $680,000. The funds to retire the debt would come out of the capital improvement fund over the next two years at an interest savings of approximately $90,000.

Harris also brought up the issue of allowing Sunday alcohol sales countywide after the City of Troy voted in favor of the policy for the municipality on October 10.

“The county losing that tax,” Harris said. “You can cross the Montgomery, Dale and Coffee county lines and buy all the alcohol you want to on a Sunday and bring it back to Pike County. Since Troy had this election passed 3-1, I can’t see – why don’t we piggyback off that? We’ve got to provide for a jail and roads; where are you going to get this money from? I think alcohol sales will boost it.”

Perry Green, a resident that pitched his case against the recruitment of Conecuh Ridge Whiskey Distillery to the Troy City Council last month, spoke out against legalizing Sunday sales across the county.

“I’m concerned with the idea that we’ve got to profane the Lord’s day in making alcohol more available,” Green said. We’re not going to increase our economic base by doing it I don’t think; but that’s not my issue. What kind of message are we sending our children? I’m so disappointed that passed by a vote of 3-1. I’ve got to believe there are stronger believers in the county than in the city… I believe a vote in the county would be 3-1 not in favor.

“I wanted to beg and implore you to evaluate this thing from Biblical and Godly perspective; don’t make it look like we are supporting it as a county commission to approve Sunday liquor sales. If you think you’ve got to do it, at least let the citizens of the county vote on it. I’d encourage you not to do this.”

No action was taken as the county would have to request a local legislation to be passed in the state Legislature to authorize the commission to make the policy or hold a referendum on the issue.

The county commission will meet again on Monday, November 13 upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and will be followed by a business meeting at 6 p.m