Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Their patience worn thin, Zion Hill residents endorse use of emergency funds to get mill bridge reopened quickly

Asked if they wanted emergency funds used to open the bridge as soon as possible, the crowd endorsed the idea without dissent.
Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Members of the Zion Hill community at a meeting Tuesday unanimously decided to request state emergency funds for a quick reopening of the Weisenberger Mill Bridge through a one-lane truss bridge alternative.

That would overturn state plans for the bridge, which call for its replacement in 2020, but residents’ patience is wearing thin after almost two years of the bridge being closed, a move that has probably had a greater impact on Zion Hill than any other community. The bridge was its direct route to and from the rest of Scott County.

The closure of the bridge for safety reasons, and the delay in replacing it, have sparked seemingly endless debate at the local and state levels, and frustration from locals who have experienced delayed and limited access to emergency-response vehicles. Community members expressed frustration over what they said was their lack of representation on this issue.

The gathering at the bridge was held to prepare for a meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 7, when a special consulting board and members of the public will discuss the cultural and historic implications of any changes to the bridge. Magistrate Chad Wallace of Scott County’s Third District said the meeting was the public’s chance to share their thoughts in advance of the Thursday meeting.

Isaac Hughes addressed the crowd gathered at the bridge.
Isaac Hughes of Zion Hill said the community has not been represented in county government or on the board that will discuss the bridge Thursday. He asked, “How many people are on that board, that if they called EMS, response time would concern them?”

Wallace said a notice was sent out and any member of the community had the chance to be on the board.

EMS response times were the main concern. Veronica Raglin, who lives in Louisville but spent five months with her sick father in Zion Hill last year, said that with the bridge closed, EMS vehicles and hospice nurses often experience delays. She said that one ambulance took two hours to arrive.

Raglin said her father’s death last year was a result of cancer and not delayed EMS responses, but the delays were a source of frustration for her family.

Raglin expressed concern for other members of the community. “There are other sick people up here,” she said, adding that many members are elderly. “What happens to them?”

Wallace showed the crowd the two remaining alternatives for bridge replacement. The first involved a two-lane bridge that would require removal of the wall along the side of the road.

The rock wall near the bridge incorporates old millstones.
Bryan Pryor, who lives beside the bridge, said he is legally obligated by an historic easement to preserve the wall surrounding his property. “A wall’s not worth a life,” he acknowledged, but said he has supported the idea of a single-lane bridge for a while. Its proponents say a two-lane bridge would lead to more speeding and wrecks in the curve on the south side of the bridge.

The other plan is for a single-lane, 11-foot-wide bridge that would reuse materials in the current bridge and support farm equipment and ambulances, but not tractor-trailers, which have been blamed for damage that led to closure of the bridge.

Midway Magistrate Linda Popp said she has “been fighting to keep a bridge that is safe for our community.” She said the two-lane alternative is unsafe but thinks the single-lane alternative is “big enough for our farmers.” 

Veronica Raglin posed at the bridge.
Raglin said, “I don’t care what size the bridge is—just open it!” She added, “Anxiety isn’t building up; it’s been up.”

Hughes agreed, and reminded the crowd about the delayed EMS times. “Life doesn’t matter, apparently,” he said. “You’re arguing over one lane or two lanes. You’re not worried about lives. Get it open.”

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandergrift encouraged the community to begin a letter-writing campaign. “I sympathize with your anger,” he said, “but we need to turn that into something.” He suggested people write letters to their representatives and letters to the editor. “Politicians listen when they’re in the paper,” he said.

A member of the crowd said, “The people of Zion Hill have a right to be mad,” and Vandergrift replied, “We gotta yell at the right people. We have to come together.”

Joe Graviss, the Democratic nominee for state representative in the Nov. 6 election, encouraged the residents to think of the meeting as “a message to the powers that be” that the community wanted to open a single lane bridge as soon as possible to allow full access to emergency services. He said it would be cheaper and faster to build a single-lane bridge.

Graviss called for a show of hands to indicate how many were willing to ask for emergency state funding to open a single-lane bridge, and the crowd unanimously agreed. “This is how stuff gets done,” he told the crowd, and said later, “I’m pretty pleased that happened.”

The crowd gathered at the bridge, with its mill namesake in the background.
Wallace said that if there were no objections, the consulting board would pursue the second alternative that involves reusing bridge materials and constructing a single lane bridge. He said to get federal funding, he must present both alternatives, but would be fighting for the faster option.

Federal funding has complicated the project by invoking historical and environmental review requirements. One of those is the consulting board.

State engineers have said that reconstruction of the bridge will require purchase of a small amount of property, which cannot proceed until the historic and environmental reviews are completed. The project is slated for construction in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019.

Liles Taylor, who defeated Popp in the May 22 Democratic primary for Midway magistrate, expressed concern over funding possibly being delayed for two more years unless the board is able to “work some magic in Frankfort.”

The consulting board is scheduled to meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Northside Elementary School cafeteria in Midway. After the meeting, a 30-day comment period will be in effect. Then, the consensus will be given to the federal government.

Casey Smith, project manager for the state Transportation Cabinet, said in a letter presented at the meeting, “After completing the Section 106 process we’ll make a final alternative decision and complete the NEPA document.” He referred to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Smith wrote that the process is expected to take until December, during which time the design plans will be finalized. “After that,” he wrote, “the right of way and utility phase of the project may proceed.”
Mapquest map, adapted, shows how the bridge closure has complicated Zion Hill's access to the rest of Scott County.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Too long a waited. Too much red tape.