Arch St project disputed

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

The future of the proposed Arch Street River Walk project may be in doubt for a few weeks as Demopolis City Councilmember’s research the plans to determine the proper avenues. The tabling of a vote on the project was mostly due to presentations from concerned citizens and residents of the area about the project at the Thursday council meeting.

Before hearing feedback, the Arch Street Task Force, who were in charge of the planning process, brought their strategy before the council. Jay Shows, a member of the Task Force went through the possibilities.

“Basically the River Walk Arch Street project involved a floating dock at the north city landing,” Shows said. “I think it will probably be around 150 feet or so. Then a 200 or plus foot two tier retaining wall and a walkway from Highway 43 to the Botanical Gardens. There will be a courtesy floating dock at the lower landing that is close to the botanical gardens and there is to be a sidewalk. There will be fencing, park bench seating and a little bit of landscaping and two different areas for additional parking.”

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Shows said the walkway would extend to the lower landing and acknowledged that like any area near a large body of water, flooding could be an issue.

“The intention is to tie into Highway 43 and take it all the way to the lower landing,” Shows said. “I would think at the north landing and the lower landing both at some stages could fall below the flood plane. A project engineer would have to answer those questions. I have talked to people, but I do not want to speak for engineers.”

The location of the walkway would be in a location where flooding was not likely to be a problem more than once or twice a year. Shows said they were conscious of roadblocks with the project, but were working with engineers to find solutions.

“We are aware that there are some challenges to this project,” Shows said. “The committee voted thinking it was doable. As for as the sidewalk, I personally think one could be built where rising water and receding water would not be a major problem, but then again someone with more experience would have to say for sure.”

Some felt the project needed a lot of work before voting a plan in place.

Kirk Brooker, who represented the Marengo County Historical Society, said his group felt they were incorrectly tied into the project.

“Although the Marengo County Historical Society was named in the grant application by then Mayor Austin Caldwell as having endorsed this project, the Board of Directors of this Society was unaware of any such proposal and application until after its submittal,” Brooker said. “It is confusing as to why the Society’s board was not contacted during the application process and why it was falsely stated that they supported the project.”

Brooker said they felt a walkway could be beneficial fro the city, but wished to see Arch Street undisturbed.

“The board believes in a scenic walk from the yacht basin to the Civic Center,” Brooker said. “However, they are not in support in development of the residential areas along Arch Street that have relatively been undisturbed since its dedication in 1819.”

One reason for their opposition was archeological findings along Arch Street. Brooker said the society would like to see a new panel put together to devise a new plan.

“The society proposes that a committee be formed to revise the plans,” Brooker said.

“In order to design an all encompassing plan, we suggest that this committee be made up of residents and property owners, beautification commissions and historic commissions, Chamber of Commerce and the Marengo County Historical Society and park and recreation board.”

Through the years the white bluffs of Demopolis have become well known. Brooker said added materials could do away with this unique trait if used improperly. A wrought iron fence that was included in the plans could also block their view.

“The society also has concerns about materials to be used in the project,” Brooker said. “A wrought iron fence is proposed to run along the river bank. While such a fence is more pleasing than a chain link fence, the visual impact it is going to have on the open view is a concern. The only way to see the white bluffs besides a direct approach by boat is to stand along Arch Street and look north and south for a side view. If you look down a fence line of black wrought iron fence you see seemingly a solid black wall.”

Brooker added that the walkway, which was set to be 10 feet wide, would not be possible because of erosion. He said the society also felt there was no way around the removal of trees.

The residents themselves also had concerns. David Martin, a native of Tuscaloosa was at the meeting to express these concerns. Martin said the residents felt the boat traffic on the river could be converted into business, but a better plan needed to be considered.

“There is quite a bit of interest in being able to garner the type of commerce that arises from this boat traffic,” Martin said. “However, we have to strike a balance in this situation.”

Martin said many people come to Demopolis for its rich history. A walkway could put some of the key items they look for in jeopardy.

“A lot of that boat traffic is there because they want to see the white bluffs of Demopolis,” Martin said.

“They want to see the Chickasaw Gallery. They want to envision how the early settlers and colonists who were traveling down the river had to evade attacks by the Chickasaw Indians. They want to experience Demopolis.”

Martin also acknowledged the hard work the residents of Arch Street had put in to make sure the area remained a beautiful addition to the city. He said the added traffic to the area could disturb their privacy and cause other problems.

“These individuals have taken a lot of pride and invested a lot of time and money into keeping their homes up,” Martin said. “If we are going to put a concrete walkway across Arch Street it is going to invite traffic that otherwise does not exist there right now. We are going to be inviting bicycles, skateboarders, mopeds and other motorized vehicles. We can’t have the police force in Demopolis always patrolling the waterway. We have other issues to worry about.”

Currently, the council is looking farther into the pros and cons of the Arch Street project. A final decision is expected at the May 19 meeting.