Arch Street architects hear public comments

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2006

Almost 50 Demopolis citizens and city leaders turned out for Wednesday’s meeting with representatives of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood to discuss the future of the project and what they would like to see.

The group addressed many issues from keeping wheels off the trail to island dredging and a splash pad for children and, of course, the white bluffs. But there was one statement repeated throughout the night:

“Stop at Phase One.”

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Phase One of the project would run from Highway 43 near Childers Street to the cistern below the North City landing. Most people in attendance felt this was enough.

Kirk Brooker, director of the Marengo County Historical Society, said they did not want to see another project like the Botanical Gardens come to town.

“I would like to see us do Phase One and stop,” Brooker said. “When we look at the Botanical Gardens and what we have had to look at over the last few years is bad. We took a beautiful view of the river and completely blocked it.”

Placing a chain link fence with the project, Brooker said, was another concern. From certain vantage points, he said, looking through a fence was like looking at a wall.

“When you are walking past the river and you look at a chain link fence, it is like looking at a black wall almost,” Brooker said. “You are going to have to be in front of it almost to see through, otherwise, it is going to be like looking through a wall.”

Most people, Brooker said, wanted a project they could be proud of. He said many would be in favor of completing Phase One and quitting to be sure the funding was available to maintain the Riverwalk.

“I would hate to see what is now a beautiful area turn into an eyesore because we are having to fulfill this grant that was written,” Brooker said. “I think if we took a poll here today, we would all agree to Phase One and be happy with Phase One.”

Based on the possible location of the project, there was another fencing issue. The North City landing is a popular spot for people to congregate at Christmas on the River to watch fireworks and the nautical parade.

Lindsy Gardner, who is one of many who enjoy Christmas on the River festivities, said they hoped fencing would not interfere.

“A lot of people like to go down there and watch the fireworks,” Gardner said. “How would the fence affect that?”

Goodwyn Mills and Cawood representative Cathy Gerachis said their fence would be no more of a barrier than the fence that is already there.

“The fence that is there now is 8 to 10 feet from the concrete wall,” Gerachis said. “Our fence would be behind that, but people sitting on the ground would still be able to see. We are planning on people looking over the top of the fence and not through it. If you are immediately in front of the fence and sitting on the ground, you may have to look through it.”

Extra costs for the city on the project also posed a concern. If the project costs more than the estimated $504,000 some feared the city may have to pay the difference.

“Normally, when the city of Demopolis signs a contract with Goodwyn Mills and Cawood there is a provision for cost overrun,” Webb said. “As a taxpayer I think I have the right to know.”

This should not be a problem, Gerachis said, because the project was only supposed to go as far as the money took it. She said the current status calls for an 80 percent payment by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Another concern was the unpredictability of the river on a courtesy dock. The current plan calls for a courtesy dock, which would be 150 feet long and 15 feet wide. Will Barrett, another representative of the company, said the dock was designed to float at a level that should withstand any rising water.

“The courtesy dock will be constructed with hinges so that, when the water rises, the dock will rise with it,” Barrett said. “A floating dock like the one we have in mind will have four parts bolted into it. It will be able to rise up 40 feet. If the water level falls, it will just rest on the ground.”

Barrett also said the chances of trees damaging the dock were slim unless it took a direct hit.