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Demopolis adjusts Jackson Street bridge repair projects

State inspection leads to downgrading of  western bridge, adding expense to project

Recent inspections on the Jackson Street bridges have led the Demopolis City Council to revisit repair plans after the western most bridge saw its weight limit downgraded.

The city had planned to spend $531,000 in the current fiscal year capital budget for the work to be done on the eastern bridge, but when the western bridge saw its weight limit downgraded, officials began looking into other options.

The limit of 15 tons still allows for most routine vehicles, including school buses, but does not allow for heavier commercial vehicles, which is a concern for a hickory mill located in that area, according to Mayor John Laney.

Upon learning of the downgrade, officials asked Neel-Schaffer Engineering to look at the west bridge to bring it back up to full grading. Laney said the firm estimated the project would cost approximately $244,000.

The council discussed adjusting the timing of the east bridge project in order to move forward with the upgrades to the west bridge, allowing the city to utilize 2019 fiscal year capital funds for the work.

“We asked (Neel-Schaffer) to give us a spending plan that would keep us from busting our capital expense budget. The plan is to do the west bridge now and putting the repair costs for the east bridge in next year’s capital budget,” Laney said.

The mayor added that the work on the east bridge would be bid out in September, with the expense to fall into October, which is the first month of the fiscal year.

While the mayor told the council the costs for both projects would be presented at a later date, the members did move forward in approving $19,400 to be spent for Neel-Schaffer to begin preliminary work on the western bridge.

“We need to move forward on the western bridge now due to the impact on the hickory mill,” Laney said.

Other items discussed by the council included:

• approving to spend $7,800 on a council dais, or a platform, for Rooster Hall.

The dais will be horseshoe shaped, measuring 6 feet deep by 18 feet wide. The dais was introduced as a means to provide additional security during meetings.

Public Works Director Barbara Blevins is overseeing the project and said the work to build the dais would be done by her department with most materials being purchased from local businesses.

The dais will be constructed in a way that allows it to be broken down and removed when necessary.

The council approved the measure 4-1, with Dist. 4 Councilman Bill Meador voting against it.

“I’m not sure it is necessary,” Meador said. “It’s a small town … but, I may be wrong.”

• discussing an upcoming appointment to the Water Works and Sewer Board.

The seat currently occupied by Harris Hurst is expiring. Three were nominated to fill the seat, including re-appointing Hurst. Mayor Laney nominated Justina Allgood while Dist. 1 Councilman Charles Jones nominated Karen Braxton.

With the nominations, the council could approve one of the nominees at the next council meeting.

• discussing an upcoming appointment to the Demopolis Board of Education.

The BOE seat currently held by Jim Stafford expires in April and he does not plan to serve another term, according to Laney.

The mayor asked the council to consider possible nominees for the position.

• approving an increase in capital funds for the Demopolis Airport.

Airport Director Jason Pendergrass reported that sensor that measures cloud height and density has malfunctioned and that it would need to be replaced at a cost of about $14,000. The airport’s capital budget only allowed for $4,500.

“This effects everbody … even AirEvac uses this to determine whether they can fly out,” Pendergrass said.

The council approved the increase to the airport’s capital expense budget, allowing for the purchase.

• approving an ABC license for a Wild Turkey Federation event at the Demopolis Civic Center.

• Decatur Street resident Ruthie Williams spoke to the council about ongoing problems with a ditch by her home. Councilman Jones, who has been working on a solution to the problem, said he is continuing to search for ways to do the work, adding that environmental concerns beyond the city has tied the project up.

“I’ve been lied to over and over (about the ditch). That has been a problem for 40 years. I’ll be back next week and the week after that … I’ll be here until I die,” she said.

Jones asked public works officials if they could look at cleaning the ditch for the time being.

“Some say sitting water is a good thing, in terms of providing a healthy habitat, but for (Williams) it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other problems,” Jones said.

Harold Park spoke to the council on several matters, including thanking those responsible for lowering a speed bump on Cedar Street. The council confirmed the work was done by the Water Works and Sewer Board.

Park also spoke on concerns involving the repairs to the Confederate monument and the damaged soldier statue.

Park said the committee appointed to discuss options following the statue being damaged did not hold public meetings. As a committee of the city council, that is a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, he said.

He also stated he felt members of that board may have had conflict of interests, citing business owners who may not have wanted to hurt their businesses as well as Police Chief Tommie Reese as it was a police officer who crashed into the monument causing the damage.

Councilman Jones, who served as the council representative over the committee, said there were only two business owners on the committee and defended the outcome of the  final resolution approved by a split vote of the council, 3-2.

“At the end of the day, this is a win-win,” Jones said. “The monument will still say ‘To Our Confederate Dead;’ all we’re doing is adding something to it (to include other veterans).”

The council voted last summer to replace the damaged soldier with an obelisk and to include verbiage honoring all of America’s fallen soldiers.

• James Benderson approached the council with questions about the city’s dilapidated property procedures as well as the need for sidewalks leading to U.S. Jones school.

The council recently approved a grant application that could provide for sidewalk work related to both U.S. Jones and Westside Elementary School.

The next meeting of the city council is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 15. 5:15 p.m., at Rooster Hall. The public is invited to attend.

(This article originally appeared in the Saturday, January 6 issue of the Demopolis Times.)