For the second time in as many months, the Macon County Board of Commissioners has taken an official stance on a proposed Department of Transportation project.
Last month the commissioners passed a resolution calling for the department to consider a compromise plan for controversial improvements to Needmore Road. On Tuesday, the board passed a second resolution, this time on the subject of the proposed dismantling of the historic McCoy Bridge.
What is the underlying message in both resolutions? It seems to be that the DOT should listen to the desires of the citizens of Macon County.
“The purpose of this resolution is to make sure that the North Carolina DOT understands the voices of this county,” said the commission’s vicechair Bob Kuppers, who drafted the resolution concerning McCoy Bridge.
Commission chair Brian McClellan agreed with Kuppers, saying, “This resolution is telling the DOT where we – we being the citizens of Macon County – are at on this. It's just expressing our desires.”
The resolution, which was passed unanimously by the board, comes on the heels of the April 25 public hearing in Cowee on the DOT project at which many citizens expressed the desire to see the bridge saved from demolition.
McCoy Bridge (bridge 172 on SR 1456), one of the few truss bridges that still exists in the state, crosses the Little Tennessee River, connecting Hwy. 28 with the northern end of Rose Creek Road in the Oak Grove Community of northern Macon County. The single-lane bridge, built in 1960, is considered by many 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.
At an earlier public hearing in 2009, many residents expressed a desire to see the old bridge restored. According to Kuppers, who attended that first meeting in one of his first official duties as a new member of the board, the same opinions were again heard at last month’s public hearing.
The compromise plan proposed by the resolution recommends the construction of a new bridge (as described in DOT Alternative 3), but instead of dismantling McCoy Bridge, it proposes transforming the bridge into a pedestrian only bridge. The resolution notes that this alternative would create significant savings within the project budget slated for the bridge’s dismantling, savings that could be put toward the improvement and maintenance of the McCoy Bridge as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge.
Kuppers noted that the compromise plan proposed in the resolution was among those that had been heard at the public hearing which he felt answered both major concerns for the project.
The motion to approve the resolution was made by Commissioner Ron Haven and seconded by Commissioner Kevin Corbin, who thanked Kuppers for his work on the resolution. “To me this represents another way that this board has worked together to make a common sense recommendation that not only serves the community together but saves money,” Corbin said.
Haven said that he, too, felt that the resolution set forth a reasonable compromise. Haven also commented that he hoped citizens would note that the board was actively responding to public input.
“I want you to see that we commissioners were there and behind the will of the people and to do the best we could for our county,” he said. “If you don’t think public input matters, here are two examples of where it did,” he added, referring the McCoy Bridge resolution and the earlier resolution on the Needmore Road project.
Though the resolutions are non-binding, Commissioner Ronnie Beale said he believed they would be taken under serious consideration by DOT officials.
School board resolution approved after wording change
A resolution by the school board calling for the transfer of funds from the district’s current expense budget to its 2010/2011 capital outlay fund was approved by the board of commissioners in the consent agenda despite apparent problems with the date on the resolution. The purpose of the transfer was to allocate funds for the purchase of a new activity bus for the school district and for the replacement of the roof at Union Academy.
An earlier version of the resolution, passed at the April 25 school board meeting, stated that the need for the transfer was due to the fact that “capital outlay funding was eliminated for the 2010/2011 school year by the board of commissioners creating a hardship ...” In Tuesday's version of the resolution, the wording had been changed to read simply that “capital outlay funding is not available for the 2010/2011 school year ...”
Despite the apparent change in wording, the date on the resolution remained unchanged. Signed by school board chairman Tommy Cabe and Superintendent Dan Brigman, the resolution is dated April 25. Commissioners discussed the obvious inconsistency, but decided to go ahead and approve the transfer.
When asked about the wording change on the resolution, Chairman McClellan gave the following comment: “I think the school board and the superintendent realize that we're all working together to accomplish the same thing. I don't think there was anything intentional at all [in the wording], and I don't think any of the commissioners took it personally, but we felt like taxpayers in the county might take it personally and feel like it was being said that they weren't doing enough. I think I can speak for everyone on the board that we feel like we work very hard [for education in the county]. That's the biggest part of our budget ... by a long shot, and I think that shows were our priority is with education.”
McClellan noted that the board has approved $43 million in facility building and improvements in the last three years alone. “We just felt like that was a better way to let the people of Macon County know that their efforts on behalf of the schools is appreciated,” he said of the wording change.