McCoy Bridge (bridge 172 on SR 1456), crosses the Little Tennessee River, connecting Hwy. 28 with the northern end of Rose Creek Road in the Oak Grove Community in northern Macon County. The single-lane bridge, built in 1960, is considered by many to be an important landmark and a piece of Macon County history.
To meet basic safety standards for the crossing of school busses and emergency vehicles, the DOT has recommended dismantling the bridge and replacing it downstream with a 28-foot wide, two-lane concrete slab bridge, an option that has been opposed for, many years by citizens groups in Oak Grove and the Cowee Community.
During their May 2011 board meeting, commissioners passed a resolution requesting that the NCDOT listen to Macon County citizens before making any decisions concerning the bridge.
“The purpose of this resolution is to make sure that the North Carolina DOT understands the voices of this county,” said then commissioner Bobby Kuppers in 2011. Kuppers drafted the resolution that was originally approved by the board.
The resolution was the result of an April 2011 public hearing in Cowee regarding the fate of the bridge in which the community came out in droves. The conversation to preserve the bridge goes even further back to an earlier public hearing in 2009, when many residents expressed a desire to see the old bridge restored. According to Kuppers, who attended that first meeting as one of his first official duties as a new member of the board, the same opinions were again heard at the April 2011 public hearing.
According to County Commissioner Ronnie Beale at Tuesday night’s meeting, the most cost effective plan for the NCDOT would be to tear down McCoy Bridge and replace it with a new one. In the spirit of compromise, NCDOT and Macon County entered into an agreement to maintain the current bridge as a foot and bike path and construct a new one for vehicles.
According to the agreement to transfer ownership and maintenance for McCoy Bridge, the NCDOT has agreed to cover the cost of bringing the bridge up to standard as well as the cost of having it inspected every two years for the next eight years, as required by law. After the NCDOT has completed its portion of the agreement in eight years, it will then become the responsibility of the county to cover the cost of maintaining the bridge and abide by the mandatory two-year inspection.
Beale, who has been on the board since the project's inception, informed his fellow board members that with the amount of community interest in the project, he is confident that in 10 years when it comes time for the county to take over full responsibility of the bridge, there will be historical preservation money and help from the community for the continued upkeep of the bridge. Beale also told commissioners that he would like to add a portion to the agreement to request that the NCDOT provide appropriate signage for the bridge.
Commissioner Ron Haven, who made the motion in 2011 to approve the resolution for a compromise, brought up the cost of how much the county will end up having to pay in 10 years for the upkeep of the bridge. “I think the bridge is really pretty and we should try to save it,” said Haven. “But we don't need to spend a bunch of money either. We need to think about costs. Can we get the community to pay for it?”
Beale said while he has no idea what the cost of inspecting a bridge would be 10 years down the road, he also couldn't see requiring members of the community to pay for it considering that in 10 years, the members would be different than they are today.
Newly-elected Commissioner Paul Higdon pointed out that according to the agreement, if down the road the county is not able to pay for the upkeep of the bridge, that the NCDOT will remove the bridge at a cost of $126,000 to the county.
“Now I know that I am new to this and all I know about this is what little bit I have read in the papers,” said Higdon. “ But I do think the bridge is worth saving, but the reason the DOT is dropping the tonnage on the bridge is because it is deteriorating.”
Higdon noted that because the bridge is an iron truss bridge, it will continue to require constant upkeep and maintenance, which could end up being rather costly for the county. He also stated that the unpredictability of what it will cost in ten years to inspect the bridge is a gamble he wasn't comfortable with.
Beale believes that regardless of the cost, which he anticipates not being very much, commissioners have a duty to listen to the citizens. “The county has been working with the community and this is what they want,” said Beale. “We need to do whatever we can to save it.”
After listening to testimonies from the other commissioners regarding the history and community interest in the project, Haven stated that he supported an agreement with NCDOT to preserve McCoy Bridge. “At first I was against it, but after listening to you all talk about the community's involvement, I would like to vote for it,” said Haven.
On a motion made by Beale and seconded by Haven, commissioners voted 4-1, with Higdon voting no, to enter into an agreement with NCDOT to preserve McCoy Bridge.
McCoy Bridge will be transferred to Macon County after the new traffic bridge is constructed.
After deliberating in closed session, the Board of Commissioners announced that they would be requesting that the property owners of Parker Meadows give the county 30 additional days for due diligence in ensuring that the property would suffice for a new recreation park.
According to Commission Chair Kevin Corbin when County Attorney Chester Jones drafted the Offer to Purchase for the property, he stated that the county would have completed the inspection of the property and would be ready to place an offer on Dec. 15. With that date being on Saturday, the county would like more time to further inspect the property. “There are some wetlands in the property that we knew about when we decided to move forward with purchasing it, and we just want to make sure that the property will be able to be used for what we have planned,” explained Corbin. “I am sure that we will be able to move forward with the Parker Meadows property, but if not, we will have to look at a different property that would be able to meet our needs.”
Commissioners are requesting that the property owners permit them an additional 30 days to inspect the property, and after that 30 days, another 15 days to make an offer and close with the bank. If the property owners refuse, then the Offer to Purchase will be terminated and the county will begin exploring other properties.
A public input meeting regarding the proposed recreational site off of Maxwell Home Road (the Old Parker Meadows golf course) will be held on Thursday, Dec. 20, from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Community Facilities Building. The public is invited to join the discussion, with opportunities for comments before and after the Q & A session at 6:30 p.m.