By Fred Woods



What started out as a rather routine county commission meeting turned interesting Monday night as a dozen or so residents of northwest Lee County showed up to voice their views.

These residents would be forced to detour 17 miles, including 4 1/2 miles of somewhat treacherous dirt road, for nine to 12 months while an old bridge was replaced – if the county voted in favor of the usual option of tearing out the old bridge and building a new one on the original site.

The bridge, built in 1934, spans Saugahatchee Creek on Lee Road 65.

That usual option was, in fact, one of two options presented to the commission by County Engineer Justin Hardee. The materials cost of this option was estimated as just over a million dollars.

The second option was to build a replacement bridge some 50-70 feet north of the existing span and continue to use the old structure until the new bridge was completed, at which point the old bridge would be demolished. This option was estimated to cost $1.246 million.

The difference between the two options was roughly $200,000. Commissioner Sheila Eckman, saying that this was the toughest decision she had had to make in her 14-year political career, moved to adopt the first option, reasoning that the $200,000 savings would fund 3-4 shorter span bridges, which the county is building for $50,000 to $60,000 each, with six such county bridges needing replacement.

After Commissioner Robert Ham reluctantly seconded Eckman’s motion, a number of residents spoke against the motion, with others nodding their agreement.

Concerns focused on safety issues, impaired emergency services and the belief that cellphone service doesn’t exist for three of the four and a half miles of isolated dirt road.

When resident Bill Wartman suggested adopting option two and leaving the old bridge intact but limited to foot traffic as a historic and scenic attraction, Eckman withdrew her motion.

Hardee was asked to bring back a third option, based on Wartman’s suggestion, for consideration at a future meeting.

Also in the meeting, Gerri Young of Loachapoka asked for the commission’s help in getting a safety arm added at the railroad crossing on Lee Road 51 at Loachapoka High School. She also asked that the school zone sign near the school be relocated, as the school has expanded near the sign.

Capt. James Majors of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office was named to fill a vacancy on the Beulah Utilities Board. Since the policy of automatically reappointing incumbents to county boards has ended, vacancies are attracting more interest. There were five applicants for this vacancy.

County Administrator Roger Rendleman was recognized for his role in the county’s receipt of the “Excellence in County Government” award from the Alabama County Commissioners Association. The award was for the county’s procurement card program. The program, instituted under Rendleman’s leadership,is a restrictive credit card program used for county purchases with rebates for volume purchases.

Hardee recognized Michael Maddox who is retiring after 28 years of service. Maddox began his county career as a truck driver and retired as Unit 2 Supervisor. Hardee told the commissioners, “I dare say that in the past year, Maddox has worked on a problem in every commission district in the county.”

EMA Director Kathy Carson recognized Chris Tate, EMA Communications Officer, for his receipt of “The President’s Call to Service Award,” also called the “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which is the highest award given in the President’s Volunteer Service Initiative.

To receive this award an individual must have over 4,000 hours of certified lifetime volunteer service. Tate currently has almost 6,400 hours of volunteer service logged. This is all volunteer service and does not include any of his work with the county. Most of his hours came from his work with the Civil Air Patrol, as a Reserve Officer with the Opelika Police Department and as a Volunteer Firefighter.

Carson also introduced Jeremy Jones as EMA’s new training officer.

County Environmental Services Director Chris Bozeman announced the next Electronics Recycling and Document Shredding event of the East Alabama Recycling Partnership will be held Sept. 13 at Saugahatchee Square (formerly Midway Plaza) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Commissioners also approved a retail beer and table wine license for the Salem Get N Go.