New bridge to be built on the busiest stretch of Aska Road- Are families now at risk?

Community, News

Shallowford Bridge noted for its’ historical significance in Fannin County is eligible to be recognized in The National Registry of Historic Places. Its current fate is at the center of a growing divide between GDOT, businesses, and residents on Aska and Shallowford Bridge roads.

Imagine peak tourist season, bridge construction, road changes, businesses and local residents all converging around Shallowford Bridge and Aska Roads. Those who live in this area can not imagine how this became the pending scenerio. A new bridge is supported, it is the location causing concern for current safety and for the area as it continues to grow in the future.

Earlier this month, GDOT held a Public Open House in Blue Ridge to explain their plans for the replacement of Shallowford Bridge. Concerned citizens were encouraged to ask questions and complete a questionnaire.

Representatives from Michael Baker International, a provider of engineering and consulting services were on hand to offer reasons why this project is imperative. GDOT must repair, replace, or move the current bridge. The bridge does not meet engineering criteria and has many issues, mainly steel related. It is not in safety compliance with federal regulations regarding bridge standards. Considering all available information, it is urgent to address the bridge issues now.

GDOT District Engineer (Cartersville) Grant Waldrop said Shallowford Bridge project will start about September 2020. It is expected to be completed in a 12-month time period.

Waldrop affirmed. “Fannin County has requested we leave the old bridge up. The existing bridge will be open during construction so there won’t be any detours which are about 10 miles down the road.”

While he added residences and businesses along Aska Road and Shallowford Bridge Road will be minimally affected, the residents and business owners expressed a much different opinion.

During the Open House, Kimberly and Charlie Wolfe, owners of Iron Bridge General Store and Cafe, located directly across from the current Shallowford Bridge and expected construction area, voiced their fears of how damaging GDOT’s current plan is for the safety of locals, tourists, and their business. Current plans could also destroy the businesses in the construction area having limited to no customer access for 12 months.

A highly congested area in the summer, and consistently busy in the offseason, they are concerned what it means in regard to safety for everyone. In addition to increased traffic, designated parking spaces, vehicles parked on both sides of Aska Road is increased foot traffic which often includes young children excitedly dashing about. The bridge is set to intersect with Aska Road in the middle of this busy public area.

Plans include a new trussed, concrete bridge to be constructed with two nine-foot lanes and a 10-foot walking path across the Benton-McKaye Trail relocation.

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Shallowford Bridge Road could see improvements

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Shallowford Bridge Road could see upgrades including paving in the future. Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff discussed with the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) the possibility of receiving federal grant money to complete these projects.

“This is a federal grant on paving Shallowford Bridge Road,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton began. “It’s an 80/20 grant.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Public Works, Zack Ratcliff, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Land Development, Marie Woody, Fannin County Water Authority, Jackie Seabolt, Mark Burger, David Falls, Fire Station, Nixle, Stop the Littering, Shallowford Bridge Road, paving, condemnation

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff discusses  a federal grant to pave a portion of Shallowford Bridge Road.

Ratcliff explained the grant in more detail: “We’re looking at probably a $172,000 grant.”

If allotted this grant amount through the Forest Service, the county would be responsible for $34,543.

“They’re going to let us do a mile in forestry service property,” Ratcliff said, explaining that special permission had already been given to conduct this project.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee commented, “I think it’s a good deal. It will cut down on some of the dust and mud.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson, who is no stranger to the paving business, questioned, “Are we paving or tar and graveling?”

Ratcliff replied that it would be paving and also informed the board that the work would need to be contracted out. The county can also reapply for this grant in the future to continue similar pieces of work in the county.

All commissioners were in agreement to apply for this funding with Johnson acknowledging the benefits: “We can’t pave any roads that cheap anywhere else.”

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham approached the BOC with a request regarding the county’s emergency alert system, Nixel.

“Tonight, I would like to ask for the commissioners to consider the renewal of the contract for our alert system for the county,” Graham opened the discussion with the BOC.

The Nixle Alert System is one of the county’s many tools in providing citizens with up-to-date information regarding any emergencies or situations within the county that require resident’s attention.

“The Nixle Alert System is a countywide alerting system that we can send out both text, email, or voice messages in case of emergency,” Graham explained of how the system works. “We can also do a reverse 911, where we can send out to every number in our 911 system with a voice message.”

Fannin County’s Nixle currently has 4,075 residents signed up for text alerts, 1,636 signed up for email, and the reverse 911 option has the ability to presently reach around 14,000 people.

The current contract for the Nixle Alert System expires at the end of this month. The new contract is for three years with a guaranteed price of $8,022.67 per year. This is an increase of $233.67 from the county’s current contract.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Public Works, Zack Ratcliff, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Land Development, Marie Woody, Fannin County Water Authority, Jackie Seabolt, Mark Burger, David Falls, Fire Station, Nixle, Stop the Littering, Shallowford Bridge Road, paving, condemnation

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson looks over a contract renewal for the county’s Nixle Alert System.

Of the $8,022.67 per year, the cities of Blue Ridge and McCaysville each pay 23 percent of this total, while the city of Morganton pays 8 percent. This leaves a remaining 46 percent for the county to compensate.

“It sounds like a much-needed tool,” Johnson shared of his thoughts on the contract renewal.

Sosebee agreed of the need, “When I first ran for office my platform was safety for everybody in Fannin County. I have no problem with it (renewal of contract).”

The BOC unanimously agreed to renew the county’s contract for the Nixle Alert System.

Graham also gave a brief update on the search for property for Fire Station 2 (Mineral Bluff). Johnson had previously questioned the status of this station at a prior BOC meeting.

“We feel like if we move any direction out of Mineral Bluff that we need to look towards Highway 60 North,” Graham stated.

Graham cautioned that the station should not be moved out of the community more than a mile and that moving it any further could result in ISO (Insurance Service Office) ratings for residents of that area being affected.

Graham said that his team will continue to be on the lookout for suitable property for Fire Station 2.

Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody presented the BOC with a county-wide initiative to curb the littering problem that Fannin County faces. This new program is dubbed the Stop The Littering Campaign.

This new program hopes to bring cooperation on many fronts in Fannin County, including that of the residents.

As of April 2018 all waste transfer stations in the county will require all loads to be tarped or covered before going over the scales. If a driver is found in violation of this policy, he or she will be required to turn around properly, secure the load and then proceed to the scales again.

The county is also asking citizens to report any littering that is personally witnessed. A witness must be willing to testify in court before a citation can be issued. Residents can report littering to 706-258-5170 or 706-632-8321.

Woody updated the board on the condemnations within the county. The first condemnation is located on Salem Road.

“We can go forward on it. It is now owned by a bank,” Woody explained. A formal letter will be sent to the bank in Austin, Texas, next week.

A property on Bell Road is also a candidate for condemnation, but Woody explained that ownership of that property is still being settled, so moving forward is not an option for the county at the moment.

“A letter has went out,” Woody updated the board of property located on Old Mobile Road. “They now have a deadline to respond.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Public Works, Zack Ratcliff, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Land Development, Marie Woody, Fannin County Water Authority, Jackie Seabolt, Mark Burger, David Falls, Fire Station, Nixle, Stop the Littering, Shallowford Bridge Road, paving, condemnation

Scenic Drive site where two mobile homes were destroyed by fire.

The county is also looking into a new site located on Ada Street. This property will have to go to Superior Court, according to Woody, for public health and safety reasons.

Finally, Woody addressed the board on property located on the corner of Scenic Drive and Davis Road. This property was the site of a home fire that left two mobile homes as a complete loss.

According to Woody, this is not a condemnation site and she acknowledged, “I know there has been a lot of concern about it.”

Woody had been working with the owner of the property to get the site cleared, but the owner, who had been ill, recently passed away.

While the process will be delayed a bit for clean up to begin, Woody did want the public to know “we are working on that.”

The Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA) will see a new face on the board.

The nomination for appointment came from Johnson who said, “This person will be filling the spot of Jackie Seabolt, who chose to come off the water authority. This person I think can do a really good job. He’s in the real estate business. He’s put water systems in himself. He’s very familiar with the county.”

The board unanimously agreed and voted for Mark Burger to serve a three-year appointment on the FCWA. Also getting an unanimous reappointment was David Falls, who will serve the FCWA board for another three-year term.

Two citizens, Ralph Garner, of Blue Ridge, and Joe Webb, of Dial, spoke during public commentary and expressed similar concerns to the board.

Both citizens spoke of the expenditures of building the new Fire Station 1 and E-911 center.

“The impression given by our board is that no borrowed funds will be needed to build the new fire station,” Garner spoke of the recent reveal that borrowed funds would be needed for the project’s completion.

Webb expressed similar feelings stating, “The original vote was to limit the project to $2.5 million. There is no public plan of what’s being built and what it costs.”

Garner acknowledged that the original vote for the fire station budget was before current Chairman Stan Helton took office and added, “I commend Commissioner Johnson for voicing opposition to borrowing money.”

Garner suggested letting Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) money accumulate and using these funds for the project’s completion instead of borrowing the funds.

Garner and Webb both also voiced concerns over the recent removal of Lane Bishop from the Board of Assessors.

Webb suggested of the appointment process to any board in the county, “We never solicit people from the public. We never look at qualifications. We never look at reasons. We need a process to place people on boards.”

“There needs to be a stated need and basically resumes and interviews,” Webb added.

 

 

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Natalie Kissel

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