Commission meeting becomes referendum on local trucking business


The commission met before a nearly packed house Tuesday morning. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – When the Cullman County Commission planned Tuesday morning’s meeting, the commissioners probably did not know that the hot topic wouldn’t even be among the 18 items on the agenda.

Early in the meeting, when the floor was opened to public comment, four Vinemont area residents from County Roads 1285, 1286 and 1279 took their turns speaking about Zachary Wootten of Wootten Logistics, who is trying to locate a trucking business on County Road 1285. 

Kim Smith was the first to speak, offering the most detailed presentation.

Smith had a prepared written statement, which she made available to The Tribune, but modified the wording at certain points during her presentation.  The following transcript is from an audio recording of her verbal statement.

She began, “I’m here to address a statement that has been made to me by Zachary Wootten of Wootten Logistics.  He stated that the County Commission has agreed to widen County Road 1285 and fix the intersections where it joins Highway 31 and County Road 1286, so he can put his trucking company on a 5-acre lot that is located on 1285 that is in the middle of residential homes.

“County Road 1285 is not even wide enough for two cars to pass.  It’s been in a pitiful condition for what I’ve known at least 18 and a half years that I’ve lived there. 

“And I think it’s wrong for the County Commission to use our tax dollars to widen County Road 1285 and to fix those intersections for only one businessman.  One business, a trucking company that is established there, is going to cause the property values to decline for 26 current homeowners who pay taxes and vote.  There’s 16 homes on County Road 1286, four homes on 1285, six homes on 1279, and Dubberly General Contractors is now developing 10 acres on the north end of 1285 that’s going to have 10 additional homes on it.  This is going to negatively impact Dubberly General Contractors on their development there with trucks coming out 24/7.  It’s also going to present numerous safety issues for our children, our young drivers and everyone who lives on 1285, 1286 and 1279, with anywhere from 20 to 30 trucks coming in and out of that road 24/7.”

Smith went on to list accidents and code violations involving the company over the last two years, express concern about chemicals from truck wash bays and fueling stations getting into area soil and water, and challenge the commission to justify the potential expense of modifying County Road 1285.  She concluded by referencing a conversation she had with Commissioner Garry Marchman, in which she says he told her that the commission had not agreed to help Wootten; but followed up by pointing out that the commission had apparently agreed to trim trees along the road to allow Wootten’s trucks to pass.

Chairman Kenneth Walker offered the commission’s first response.

“Actually, this commission has not agreed on nothing.  Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever heard about this project, period.  So I don’t know where Mr. Wootten’s getting his information, but this commission has not agreed on anything; because this is the first I’ve heard anything about 1285 or any Wootten, LLC, or whatever.  So ever what he’s telling you, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Marchman, who did have previous contact with Wootten, added, “He’s right; there’s no agreement been made by the commission to widen the road or anything like that.  Now, I did agree to go out there and trim the trees back, but that’s common on any county road, you know.  And he said the trees were overhanging the road where he couldn’t get his trucks down if he had to use it.  I’d do that for anybody, any company, or a local farmer that needed to haul a tractor in and out.  You know, I would do that for anybody.”

The three remaining Vinemont residents, Steve McClellan, Ed Taylor and Ruby Taylor, spoke briefly in turn afterward, echoing Smith’s safety concerns, and adding that property for a truck yard was available elsewhere in the county, and that the proposed Vinemont site adjoined Soul’s Harbor Christian School.  Ed Taylor pointed out that all houses along the narrow County Road 1285 are already within 50 feet of the road, and that widening the road and adding drainage could create additional problems for those homeowners. Ruby Taylor expressed concern that trucks could pose a hazard to children at the school, since the school had no fence along the boundary of its property.

As this was not an agenda item, the commission could not and did not take any action after the public comments were concluded.

Zachary Wootten’s response

Wootten was not present at the commission meeting, nor was any representative from Wootten Logistics.  A driver himself, he was on the road to Indiana when he found out about the meeting, and he spoke with The Tribune by phone Tuesday afternoon.

“They didn’t tell me they were going to do this,” said Wootten, “and I’m angry.  They’ve made this into a big ordeal, and I didn’t want to be made out to be a bad person.  All I’m trying to do is put in a truck company, and it’s a small trucking company; I drive my own truck.  I have about 15 trucks: 10 trucks of my own, and four or five that are leased.

“It’s just going to be a shop, offices and parking.  I’m trying to make a living, and I need a shop to make a living.  It takes a shop to make a truck company work.  I can’t always be sending my trucks out for someone else to work on.

“They want me to buy property somewhere else, but I can’t sell the place for what I’ve got in it, then buy a $250,000 piece of property somewhere else.  I can’t find property I can afford.  There’s property available on major roads, but it’s too expensive; go find a flat 5-acre piece of land, and see what it costs.  If I sell, I’ve got to make enough to cover the cost of moving.

“I talked to Garry Marchman, and he said he would help me any way he could.  If he could, he’d widen the road.  If he could pave, he’d pave.  If not, he wouldn’t.  He wouldn’t do anything under the table.  There was nothing for certain.  If they help, they help.  If I have to kick in money to widen the turns, I’ll do it.  For me to sell, it will cost more money to buy another property than it would cost to build where I am.

“I’m 32 years old.  I’ve got a wife and kids, and I’m just trying to take care of my family.  I’m trying to stand on my own two feet.  I drive a truck; I’m on the road today.  I don’t deserve this.”

Other commission business

In addition to several common administrative items, the commission approved the following:

  • 2017-18 funding for the Cullman Area Rural Transportation System, to include the construction of a wash bay and fueling stations at the CARTS facility
  • A disaster assistance agreement that will allow the construction of a community safe room/storm shelter at Stony Lonesome OHV Park.  The shelter will hold up to 187 people, and will be paid for mainly through a federal grant.
  • A resolution allowing County Attorney Chad Floyd to pursue delinquent taxpayers without having to bring each case before the commission on an individual basis.  Floyd said the move would streamline the process of collecting overdue taxes.
  • A lease agreement with the state, allowing the Cullman County Emergency Management Agency official use of a National Guard warehouse at 704 23rd St. SW in Cullman.  The facility has been on loan to EMA for several years as a storage site for disaster response and state mortuary team equipment.  The county’s “rent” will consist of funding routine maintenance and repairs at the site.

The commission announced temporary changes to its meeting schedule, due to the commission conference room being used as a polling place for the upcoming special U.S. Senate election, and to other schedule conflicts. The remaining meetings will take place on the following days:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 8
  • Thursday, Aug. 31
  • Tuesday, Sep. 12
  • Thursday, Oct. 5
  • Tuesday, Oct. 24
  • Tuesday, Nov. 14
  • Tuesday, Nov. 28
  • Thursday, Dec. 14
  • Thursday, Dec. 28

The Cullman County Commission’s next meeting will take place in the Commission Meeting Room at the Cullman County Courthouse at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8, with a work session at 8:30.  The public is invited to attend.

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