Commission postpones vote on closing portion of CR 1615 in Berlin; Marchman addresses Stony Lonesome

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Heather Mann

Cullman County Commission meeting

CULLMAN – Seating was scarce at the Cullman County Commission meeting this week, as several community representatives came to speak at the public hearing regarding the closing of a portion of County Road 1615 in Berlin. Before the hearing, the commission needed to consider two points of business regarding abatements. The first was an approval for an abatement of $21,236,691 to Topre America Corp. for building and equipment. The second was a ratification of Hanceville's abatement of $370,000 for Metrology South for land, building and equipment. With these out of the way, the hearing began.

Zack Smith served as a representative for AGCOR Steel, the company that originally petitioned for the closing of the road. The company will be opening new facilities, and Smith says they don't want the large delivery trucks to interfere with the residential roads and school bus routes. Cullman County Engineer John Lang said that he found no major disruptions that might be caused by the closing as there are other access points to the parts of the road on either side of the closed area. However, the facilities might necessitate relocating the water line that supplies the Holly Pond station, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Despite the optimistic outlook, when the commission asked if there were any public comments on the matter, a group of representatives from the community came forward with a petition with almost 300 signatures in opposition.

One of the opposing points was that the community center has had trouble with people driving through its private back drive and messing up its yard, and closing the road would only increase the trouble. Another representative brought up the fact that, in the event of a major wreck on Highway 278, that section of County Road 1615 is often used as a bypass to keep traffic flowing around the wreckage. Along with the general inconveniences, many of the community members were worried about how the closing would affect the safety of themselves and their children.

A few people said they believe that several exits onto Highway 278, exits that would be necessary to take if the road wasn't accessible, are very dangerous due to low visibility. Drivers are unable to see over the hills or around obstructions to the side.

Cullman County Schools Transportation Director Jeffrey Harper also had issues with safety because without the road completely available, school buses would have to travel via Highway 278, where intersection conditions are more dangerous.

Harper stated, "The shortest distance between two points isn't always the safest."

Smith came back to the podium to respond to the statements, saying that they had considered all the possible outcomes and that, while it would be easier on them to close the road, they could work around keeping it open.

The commission decided that more consideration and deliberation are needed, so they postponed the vote until the next meeting.

Next up was a hearing for CARTS (Cullman Area Rural Transportation System) operations for fiscal year 2018. A CARTS representative listed the operation, administrative and capital funds, as well as how much of each would come from federal funding. She also mentioned that they were looking to replace six buses, but the federal funding would cover about 80 percent of the cost, and there would be no price increase.

While on the subject of CARTS funding, the commission passed resolutions 2017-25 and 2017-26, which authorize local matching funds for the 2018 fiscal year and authorized submitting the application for federal funding. They also authorized travel expenses to send four drivers and two administrators to a CARTS training convention in Detroit, Michigan in June. The commission then passed resolution 2017-27, which allows the County to go along with the state's change of date for the tax-free weekend to the third weekend in July, and resolution 2017-28, which authorizes Chairman Kenneth Walker to enter a contract with Reed Contracting Services to resurface County Road 1568. Walker was also authorized to approve the issuance of a tax-exempt note on behalf of the Healthcare Authority of Cullman County.

The commission approved a bond release request from Drummond Company, Inc. and authorized a one-year contract with Ameritrek to manage print services for the revenue office. Each of the commissioners then appointed new members to six-year terms on the Healthcare Authority. Chairman Walker appointed Tim Culpepper to replace Todd McElroy, Commissioner Kerry Watson appointed Beth Anderson to replace Judy Butler and Commissioner Garry Marchman reappointed Roger Humphreys. They also approved a proposed plat for the Hawk's Nest subdivision off County Road 184 and authorized payment of $13,430.66 to F&O Architects for their preliminary design work on Commission on Aging facility renovations.

Resolution 2017-29 approved raising the speed limit on County Road 747, specifically the section from Double Bridges to Welti, to 45 mph. The school bus on the road usually travels five mph under the limit, which led to impatient drivers passing the bus dangerously. The commission hopes that this slight raise in the speed limit will help decrease that. One member of the public was concerned about the sharp curves on the road, but the commission noted there will still be appropriate signs warning drivers to slow down.

The commission then approved the following vehicles from the road department to be sold on GovDeals as surplus: a 1991 Ford F350 truck, a 2009 International with Durapatcher, two 1994 AM General Hummers and a 1993 AM General Hummer. On the subject of vehicles, the commission approved the purchase of a 2017 Dodge R1500 Crew Cab 4×4 for CARTS. The total purchase price is $28,538, but federal funds will cover all except $5,708. They also approved the revenue commissioner's request to purchase a 2016 Ford Explorer at $25,787 from the state bid list for the reappraisal department. Their final vehicle purchase was a 2012 Chevrolet Equinox from the state surplus for the IT department.

The final orders of business regarded bids no. 1260 (tires) and 1261 (print advertising). The commission decided to reject both bids, for different reasons. The tire bid was rejected in favor of buying everything from the state, and the advertising bid was rejected because the commission felt more deliberation was needed. The re-bid for print advertising will be later this week. After this, the meeting adjourned.

Following the meeting, The Tribune spoke with Marchman regarding the future of Stony Lonesome OHV Park. An incident at the park claimed the lives of two spectators in April. (See http://cullmansense.com/articles/2017/04/22/breaking-news-multiple-injuries-possible-fatality-stony-lonesome)

Marchman said that he was willing to go on record and state that he felt it necessary for Stony Lonesome to step back from the competitive racing business. "We need to get out of the racing business. (Stony Lonesome) has become much more adult-oriented. It needs to go back to being a place where you can take your family, take your kids, and go riding on your four-wheeler without worrying about someone running you over." When asked, he said that he plans to bring up the issue at a future commission meeting.

The next commission meeting will be Tuesday, June 13 at 10 a.m. in the commission meeting room in the Cullman County Courthouse.