By Fred Woods
Proving once again the truth of the old, cynical adage that “no good deed goes unpunished,” District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham, who had apologized at the previous commission meeting for the lack of notification of the congregation of Salem’s New Hope CME Church of the closing of the railroad crossing on Lee Road 749 even though notification was the responsibility of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, bore the brunt of hostile complaints from James Q. Smith. a representative of the church’s district.
Briefly the issue is that, in order to get Norfolk Southern’s agreement to spend money improving the safety of an unguarded crossing adjacent to Smiths Station High School where hundreds of teenage drivers cross, at least twice a day, five and, sometimes, six days a week, the county (and ALDOT) had to agree to let them close two other dangerous rural crossings.
The crossing on LR 749, a totally unguarded crossing serving only the New Hope Church, which was initially believed abandoned, and used, so far as now known, only one day of the week. was identified as one of those dangerous crossings. In spite of congregation claims that no accident has ever occurred there it is, as Commissioner Gary Long stated, a very dangerous crossing, with an extremely restricted line of sight for trains coming from the south.
Despite Mr. Smith’s tirade there is a satisfactory alternate route to the church. Even though it is two miles further, only 0.8 mile is unpaved and the railroad crossing has warning devices. Mr. Smith, a church district elder, is not believed to be a member of the New Hope congregation.
A motion by Commissioner Harris and seconded by Mr. Lawrence to reopened the matter and ask the railroad to reconsider their decision failed by a three to two vote.
Mr. Peter Byrd, of Lee Road 106 Green Chapel Road, appeared once more seeking either reconsideration of the county’s decision to permit the East Lake Subdivision access to Lee Road 106 without making safety improvements to the narrow road with no shoulders and to its junction with the heavily travelled Lee Road 146/Moore’s Mill Road or a better explanation as to why provisions of the county’s Access Management Policy were repeatedly ignored.
Mr. Byrd asked the commission to reconsider and address the diminished safety resulting from the county “wrongfully allowing East Lake 3 to connect to these roads [ LRs 106 and 146], in contravention of the Standards established in the Lee County Access Management Policy (LCAMP).”
Byrd presented a reasoned, well-researched and well-thought-out document citing specific documents, letters and studies providing evidence that the county’s established policies were not followed. He cited three separate traffic studies all reporting traffic counts substantially over the threshold for requiring safety measures, including a five-day traffic count by the city of Auburn showing 150 vehicles per day in Nov. 2015. In his conclusion, Byrd said all he wanted was a response to his concerns. He didn’t get much of one.
Commission chairman Bill English complimented Byrd on Making the “best-informed presentation I’ve heard in my tenure as chair,” the commission unanimously supported County Engineer Justin Hardee’s handling of the matter and considered the case closed.
Pastor Anthony Shealey of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Loachapoka requested that the county consider financial support of the Loachapoka Family Enrichment Center in preparing next year’s budget. Commissioners Lawrence and Eckman praised the work of the center and indicated their support for some level of funding.
In other actions commissioners
approved the annual levy of alcoholic beverage fees,
approved execution of the federal aid agreement for bridge replacement on Lee Road 150 over Phelps Creek (this is a $446,000 ATRIP project replacing an old one-lane bridge with a modern two-lane one),
approved a change order for detention center demolition,
approved a new lease with Smiths Station reflecting the added space for the Revenue Office and
approved Lee County’s participation in the application for the 2016 ADEM Grant for Recycling Partnership (Auburn will be the lead agency for this year’s grant application).