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By RUSSELL TURNER
Greene County supervisors are taking extreme action to close a bridge deemed unsafe for public use.
The move comes after months of motorists ignoring, stealing and/or demolishing ‘bridge closure’ signs and going so far as to move dirt barricades to cross over the structure. The bridge, which crosses Mason Creek on Kate James Road, is used mostly by timber companies, hunters and residents in the area. It was among several county bridges closed in March after inspectors deemed them as too dangerous for public use. Several of the other bridges have since been repaired and reopened, but supervisors prioritized those repairs based on traffic compared to available funding.
At the time of closing, bridge barricades and signage were erected at each end of the bridge. When those were overlooked and torn down, large trenches were dug at both ends and the dirt from them piled up behind new signage and barricades to obstruct access. Those barricades were also stolen or torn down and the dirt pushed back into the trenches.
The illegal crossings have not only created public safety risks, but also threaten to cause Greene County to lose important federal funding being sought for other bridge repairs and replacement across the county. The latter issue is what caused supervisors to vote Tuesday to remove the concrete spans at each end of the bridge to render it completely impassable.
County Engineer Jason Lamb, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, told supervisors if inspectors were to find the bridges open to the public, regardless of previous attempts at closure by county officials, federal funding on other projects could be in jeopardy. He said disassembling the bridge by removing the concrete surface or demolishing the bridge completely would be the only ways to make certain that didn’t happen.
Dist. Three Supervisor Jerry Mills, who is in line for funding to fix two bridges on Piave Plaza Road and completely reopen that route to traffic, said he wasn’t willing to take that chance and made a motion to remove the end spans on the bridge.
“There is an opportunity for me to get some money to fix these Piave Plaza bridges and I need the support of the other supervisors this morning,” Mills said. “We’ve been to Jackson and we’ve been to (Washington) D.C. trying to get money and we are going to continue to look for that money and we don’t need one thing to jeopardize that.”
Mills said he would take his equipment to the bridge site, do the work and be responsible for making sure motorists didn’t find ways to reopen it. Other supervisors agreed to help with the project, but will allow Mills to take the lead on the project. They voted 5-0 to disassemble the bridge, but said they would hope to be able to reopen it in the future.
“It doesn’t just effect that area,” Board President Wayne Barrow said. “It has an impact on the whole county.”
“We can’t risk that chance and go out there and put something up that we know is going to be torn down in two weeks or two days,” Dist. Two Supervisor Morris Hill said. “You won’t get any objections from me.”
Although supervisors dealt with several other issues and approved paying claims, roads and bridges were the main topic of the meeting. One of the primary areas of concern was a bridge on West Salem Road in Dist. Three that Mills said is having a negative impact on commerce, particularly poultry operations in the area.
“We know we are going to have heavy truck traffic on that road,” Mills said. “We’ve got to get those chicken houses serviced, those chickens and eggs out and feed trucks in.”
Mills said plans are in place for six more houses in the area, but that repairs to the roadway and a reduced weight bridge needed to be a priority.
Supervisors discussed multiple options for bridge and road repairs and received an update from Comptroller Tyson Moreno concerning the $450,000 the county borrowed to make bridge repairs after several closings. Moreno told them $194,000 had been spent on repairs thus far, leaving a balance of $255,000. There is also $250,000 that was received by the county as part of the state’s settlement from the BP oil spill. That money has been earmarked for use on the Freemantown Road bridge replacement and supervisors voted to open a new bank account for distribution of those funds, which is a requirement.
Paving projects on Lovewell Road, Tung Oil Road and Old Hwy. 63 were discussed and supervisors received an update on the reseal and leveling projects on High School Road and Old Hwy. 24.
The next meeting of the board of supervisors is set for this coming Monday, Dec. 3 at 9 a.m.