Commission settles long-standing matter of abandoned river bridge

The old U.S. 231 bridge over the Locust Fork River between Cleveland and Blountsville has been an unresolved problem for the better part of a decade, as successive county administrations discussed with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) what to do with the old bridge that was replaced by the new highway bridge begun in 2006.

For safety and liability reasons, the state wished to rid itself of the albatross of a bridge, and after several years of discussion, was inclined to do so without further delay. The county wished to save the bridge, both for its present value to infrastructure (gas, telecommunications, and water lines attached to the bridge as a way of crossing the river) as well as for future potential for economic development.

The problem was to transfer ownership from the state to the county, a procedure more easily said than done. It would save the state the cost of demolishing the bridge, but the county would incur the liability associ- ated with the abandoned structure and possibly the cost of demolition someday in the future if the liability became intolerable.

But there are other reasons for saving the bridge, from Blount County’s standpoint. The approaches to the bridge are county rights-of-way, providing public access to the river for a variety of recreational activities. Such access points are increasingly rare and valuable. Furthermore it provides a significant potential for outdoor related tourism development such as fishing, canoeing, swimming, and hiking. How to value such an intangibles-chocked transaction?

The commission Monday took a significant step to resolve the knotty problem that has been the focus of intense negotiations by Commission Chairman Chris Green in recent months. In a unanimous vote, it authorized the chairman to execute agreements with the Alabama Department of Transportation for Blount County to accept ownership of the bridge. In exchange, the county will receive a credit of $658,097 toward the matching funds required for future county Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) projects.

In a further action, the commission authorized the administrator to prepare a proposal to set aside the same amount of money indefinitely in a holding account for future demolition of the bridge, should it become necessary in future years. The commission will vote on that proposal in a future meeting. Palisades Park rate changes

Following a work session discussion of new rental rates for Palisades Park facilities, the commission approved the following new rate schedule, to go into effect on Jan. 1:

•Indoor facilities (Amelia Porter Center, Dalton Moss Lodge, D.S. Loyd Building) – $25 per hour, up from $20 per hour.

•Outdoor facilities (pavilions, gazebos) – $40 per day, up from $30 per day.

•Climbing permits – $5 per 3 days, up from $2 per 15 days. Policy for school bus turnarounds

Following District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert’s work session discussion about the need for a formal process to accommodate Blount County School Board requests to develop new bus turnaround sites, the commission authorized the administrator to work with the board to develop a policy and procedure regarding such requests. Basically, the policy will fix responsibility with the school board for acquiring rights-of-way needed by the county to widen roads as necessary to create a turnaround space. A draft of the policy will be presented for commission approval at the next business meeting. Severe Weather Tax Holiday

The commission adopted a resolution designating Feb. 21 – Feb. 23, 2014, as a Severe Weather Preparedness Tax Holiday. The resolution provides an exemption from state sales and use taxes on certain materials and supplies related to severe weather preparedness purchased during the period beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, and ending at 12 midnight on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Debris removal for municipalities

To meet a December deadline for response to the state, the commission approved offering Blount County municipalities an opportunity to enter into joint memoranda of understanding with the commission to piggyback on the county/state contract for debris removal in the event of severe weather damage. The procedure enables municipalities to avail themselves of debris removal services at favorable rates negotiated for the service provided by qualifying contractors over large areas of the state. District road budgets

The commission approved a budget amendment to transfer remaining balances on district road funds 111 and 117 from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014.

The amounts transferred are as follows:

District Fund 111 Fund 117 2014 budget*
1 $44,476 -0- $1,055,290
2 58,237 227,649 1,219,496
(Self )
3 63,577 62,951 1,060,138
4 103,541 299,382 1,336,534

* represents total amount in district road budgets this year, including the 2014 fiscal year appropriation, plus the amount carried over from 2013. In other actions, the commission:

•approved a budget amendment to transfer Palisades Park 2013 fund balance of approximately $1,400 to the fiscal year 2014 budget.

•approved expenditures of $8,200 for repair of county fuel tanks at Snead.

•declared surplus three fuel tanks at District 3 shop and approved selling them on a sealed-bid basis.

•approved sale of trailer belonging to the District 1 road organization to the District 1 landfill organization for $750.

•approved trading the trailer to contractor in exchange for labor and building materials for a new scale (weighing) building at the landfill.

•approved purchase of backhoe for District 3 for $92,078 from Thompson Tractor through National Joint Powers Alliance clearinghouse; no commission financing required. Engineering items

The commission approved:

•a request by county engineer Winston Sitton for a $10,000 budget amendment to purchase a new vehicle for the engineering department to accommodate the increased load of monitoring and inspection activity occasioned by pending ATRIP projects.

•a 20 mph speed limit on Valley View Drive in District 3, as recommended by the county engineer.

•a 20 mph speed limit on Gargus Farm Road in District 3, as recommended by the county engineer. Quorum and future meetings

All commissioners and the commission chairman were present at the Monday business meeting. The next commission work session will be rescheduled from its usual Thursday meeting time. Instead, it will be held Monday, Dec. 2, at 9 a.m. to accommodate a schedule conflict later in the week. The next business meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 9, at 9 a.m. Both meetings will be in the commission boardroom at the courthouse in Oneonta.