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Businesses worry about bridge closure

July 01, 2009
Business owners and town officials from Milltown asked the Crawford County Board of Commissioners Friday morning to do all they can to make sure the downtown is without a bridge for as little as possible during construction of a new bridge later this year.

Jeanie Melton, a member of the Milltown Town Council, told the commissioners at their regular monthly meeting at the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English that the town favors replacing the one-lane bridge connecting Crawford and Harrison counties with a two-lane structure, "but we're very concerned about the length of time of a closure."

Talk early in the process was that the town would be without a bridge for only a couple of weeks, but now officials believe it could be up to three months.

"We have a number of businesses in town who would be adversely affected" with a longer closure, Melton said.

Robyn Carman, who owns the Milltown Mini-Mart with her husband, Jerry, said businesses like theirs rely on traffic that crosses the bridge through town to and from work. If those people take an alternate route home, they won't have a reason to come through downtown, she said.

"If you can't get across the bridge to get to our businesses, you're heading the other direction," Jerry Carman said.

Robyn Carman said she recently asked 131 of her regular customers if they would be willing to drive the detour just to get to her store, and 81 said they wouldn't.

"And these were people that I knew," she said.

Larry Bye, president of the board of commissioners, said he, Harrison County Commissioner James Goldman, Milltown officials and the construction engineer recently met to discuss options.

The problem, Bye explained, is there are safety concerns with leaving the bridge open because of a 20-foot-plus drop-off from the digging of a pier, as the new bridge will be located next to the current structure. He said construction officials have indicated the delay potentially could be shorted for an additional $47,000, but he isn't sure by how much.

Robyn Carman said her store, which she and her husband bought last year, is still trying to recoup from brief closures because of the recent wind and ice storms. If her customers get used to shopping elsewhere during a lengthy closure, they might not return, she said.

"So, I'm not just asking for your help," she told the commissioners. "I'm pleading for it."

Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor said his department would be willing to work traffic detail to help get traffic across the bridge and ensure the construction crew's safety.

District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz told the Carmans and the others from Milltown that he sympathizes with them, but the commissioners' top priority must be safety.

"If the bridge is going to get replaced, it's going to have to be down for some length of time, and a lot of that is out of our control," he said.

In a related matter, the commissioners voted 3-0 to ask the county council to pay 40 percent of the costs of relocating the water and sewer lines from the current bridge.

In another matter, resident Keith Bauer expressed support for the proposed woody biomass-to-electricity plant near Milltown.

Bauer, a retired boilermaker, explained many of the technical aspects of such a plant.

"I think it's a very good thing for our tax base," he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Patti LaHue, a member of the biomass plant opposition group, said the petition against the construction of the facility now has more than 1,500 signatures.

In a related matter, the commissioners read a letter from Larry Bye, president of the board of commissioners, to Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The brief letter states that the commissioners, "in an effort to ensure that all appropriate and required impact studies occur, are writing you to request that you advise us of the steps you believe are necessary for the construction and operation of the facility and all federal requirements (i.e. environmental impact studies) that might exist."

The commissioners in April voted 3-0 to request a federal environmental impact study be conducted before permits are issued for the plant.

Bye, in an interview on Monday, said the county's attorney doesn't believe the commissioners have the jurisdiction to require a study prior to state and federal permits being issued; however, he reiterated his earlier statement that he personally won't consider a tax abatement request without a federal environmental impact study.

In other business, the commissioners:

•Voted 3-0 to allow Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor to approach the county council for $3,000 to replace a laptop computer in one of the Milltown Police Department vehicles.

Saylor said his department has gladly given the county assistance over the past several years, including providing its K-9 when needed and making its four-wheel-drive vehicle available during this year's ice storm, without asking for financial compensation.

"The county supports us; we support the county," he said.

Saylor said he is asking for financial assistance now because the department needs new laptops for its two vehicles and the town doesn't have the money.

"We just need some help," he said, adding that he will ask Harrison County, since the town is located in both counties, for assistance in replacing the other laptop.

Schultz said Saylor's department has been a benefit to the county, but he is concerned what position the county would be in if it provides financial help to just one of the towns' police departments.

Saylor said Milltown is the only town with a full-time officer and noted the town has reserve officers, as well.

Sheriff Tim Wilkerson suggested having his department ask the council for the $3,000 to purchase the laptop and then signing it out to Milltown.

•Voted 3-0 to approve, subject to the council providing the funding, two steel bridges from E & H Bridge and Grating Inc. to replace structures on Paul Myer and Kemp roads. The combined cost of the bridges is $44,112.

•Appointed, 3-0, E-911 Supervisor Richard White as the county's representative to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 10 Planning Council. He succeeds Wilkerson, who resigned due to scheduling.

•Announced that County Bridge No. 45 at Alton will close July 15 so the bridge can be rehabilitated. The construction crew has 90 days to complete the project and will be fined $2,000 each day beyond the deadline.

The commissioners also voted to allow Schultz, whose district the bridge is located, to pick the paint color. Schultz abstained from the vote.

•Were asked by Michael Wright of Riddle for clarification on whether his drive is a county road.

He said that shortly after he bought his property in 1999 that he was told by the county highway superintendent at the time that Riddle Church Road wasn't a county road. Now, he said, he is told that it is.

Wright said he has had problems with people messing around on his property and wants to put up a gate.

The commissioners said the road is listed in the county's inventory — a list of roads for which the state provides funding — and they will have to look at the inventory listing for 1999.

If it is a county road, Wright can request that it be abandoned. There are only two other residences on the road, Wright said. One has another access route, and the other would have access through the gate, he said.

•Voted 3-0 to get replaced a hoist at the county highway garage. County Highway Superintendent Lee Holzbog presented two quotes for a three-ton hoist: Action Material Inc., $3,897.16, and Granger, $3,636. After getting the total cost on each quote, Bye is to make a decision on which to purchase. The county council still must approve the funding.

•Approved, 3-0, a performance bond in the amount of $221,275 for Tyler Technologies, CLT Apprais-al and Tax Solution, which is conducting the 2011 property reassessment.

•Voted 3-0 to allow Bye, pending the county attorney's review, to sign a contract with CyberTek Engineering for upgrades to the computer systems in the Assessor, Treasurer and Auditor offices. State law mandates that the accounting systems throughout the state be compatible by the end of the year or else the state will withhold the county's 2010 tax settlement.

•Appointed Ralph Sherron to be the board of commissioners' representative to the Blue River Regional Water District Board. He succeeds Gloria Bullington, who resigned.

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