By Fred Woods
For the Opelika Observer
At last week’s regular meeting, Lee County Commissioners heard a presentation of the preliminary report of the “Tornado Shelter Site Selection Mapping Project” prepared by two Auburn University Geosciences professors and presented by Lee County Emergency Management Agency Director Kathy Carson.
While the project’s stated purpose was to identify potential sites for community tornado shelters in Lee County outside Auburn and Opelika city limits, several factors key to selection of tornado shelter sites were not considered in the project, including the frequency of tornados in the area and the likelihood that area residents will use the shelters.
Using the assumption that volunteer fire stations were the preferred shelter sites (plus the Smiths Station Sports Complex), 19 potential sites were identified and then, based on construction of a “social vulnerability map,” ranked in order of priority. The social vulnerability map covered a one-mile radius buffer zone around each of the 19 potential sites.
The social vulnerability map considered 20 demographic variables including poverty, mobile homes, elderly, African-American, less than high school education and English as a second language (ESL).
Based on this calculation the top three priority shelter sites identified were the areas around (1) Beauregard VFD station #2, (2) the Smiths Station Sports Complex and (3) Beulah VFD station #3.
According to the National Weather Service, Lee County has, over the period 1996-2016, averaged roughly one reported tornado a year with 16 of the 21 total tornados occurring in just two years, 2009 and 2016. Based on a cursory examination of location maps, two or three of these may have occurred within the top-3 priority buffer zone areas over the 20-year period.
While shelter use estimates are very limited, an unscientific survey posted on the organization’s Facebook page found that 40 percent of pollers would not use a shelter or be willing to travel more than a mile to one.
Several commissioners expressed their reservations over the exclusion of these two factors. District 3 Commissioner Gary Long specifically asked, “Who will use …[the shelters] ?”
No action was taken by the commission.
Commissioners also heard from Michael Griffith and two of his neighbors from the Motts community southeast of Bleeker concerning new open times for the Motts dumpster. Because of illegal dumping of (primarily) industrial waste, this dumpster, beginning June 1, has been open for use from 6:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. (CDT) with a locked gate the rest of the time. Prior to June 1, the facility was open 24 hours, but dumping by persons from outside Lee County, and even out-of-state, had become a serious problem and limiting its open hours was seen as one possibility of addressing the problem.
Griffith and friends agreed with the problem but reminded commissioners that they and many others in southeastern Lee County work in the Columbus, Georgia. area and have traditionally scheduled their activities based on the Eastern Time Zone times and the dumpster hours have created problems for their schedules. They asked that open hours be changed to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Eastern time) and that consideration be given to installing a smaller, walk-through gate, open at all hours, to facilitate the dumping of household waste. County solid waste officials agreed to make some adjustment of open hours and take the gate request under advisement.
In other business, the commission:
– Heard a request to reduce the speed limit from 45 to 35 mph on a portion of Lee Road 246 near LR 935 due to dangerous curves and several hidden driveways (the County Highway Department will do a traffic study to see if this action is warranted),
– Approved a contract with D&J Enterprises to do a minimum of 4.8 miles of Full Depth Reclamation, Resurfacing and Traffic Stripe on various county roads,
– Granted preliminary plat approval to Magnolia Ridge Subdivision Phase II, a 51-acre development near the intersection of Lee Road 40l and AL Hwy. 169,
– Approved a federal aid agreement for widening and resurfacing Lee Road 011 near Sanford Middle School in Beauregard and
– Appointed Commissioner Johnny Lawrence to the 2018-19 ACCA Legislative Committee.