By Stan Welch
The Anderson County Council held its final meeting of the year Tuesday night. The Gray Drive bridge was once again a matter of considerable focus, as a dozen or so Williamston residents and elected officials appeared to speak to the County Council. Pam Owens, who has fought to keep the bridge open for more than a decade, led the charge, telling the Council that the access provided to the Gray drive area by the bridge is more than a convenience.
“This is a matter of life and death for those of us who live on the wrong end of Gray Drive,” said Owens. Owens also reported that she frequently sees large delivery trucks using the bridge, a circumstance she says must be addressed. “We need load limits on the bridge and a large fine to make sure they are taken seriously.”
County transportation director Holt Hopkins explained that the state bridge inspectors set weight limits in such cases, and that county deputies and state troopers can enforce those limits. “It simply isn’t feasible to put a police officer at the end of that bridge day in and day out,” said Hopkins.
On hand to echo Owens’ concerns was former Mayor Phillip Clardy, who explained that his father, a cardiac patient, could see an additional response time of seven to ten minutes if the bridge were closed and a train happened to also be blocking the Academy Street access.
Also speaking was Councilman Mike Looper and Mayor-elect Mack Durham. Looper, who recently lost his bid for reelection from Ward 4, and Otis Scott, who won the seat, both questioned whether CSX had met the terms of a settlement and release agreement which ended a lawsuit between the town and Anderson County on one side and the railroad on the other.
That agreement required that the bridge be repaired in such a way as to meet “industry standards”, a status Councilwoman Cindy Wilson said she doesn’t believe was met. She asked county attorney Mike Pitts to review that agreement. “I believe that it gives us some leverage to require the railroad do more to make that bridge safe,” said Wilson.
The Council accepted the information provided by Owens and the others and agreed to take the matter up again in January. “We clearly need to do some homework on this matter before we sit down with you folks and see where we need to go next,” said Chairman Tom Allen.
The Council also presented Senator Billy O’Dell with a resolution acknowledging his 24 years of public service. District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, who has served on County Council for half of Senator O’Dell’s twenty four years in the Senate, presented the resolution, which expressed appreciation for his various endeavors on behalf of his constituents.
Senator O’Dell and Councilwoman Wilson worked closely together to overcome many funding obstacles in the process of significantly improving District seven’s infrastructure. O’Dell was also honored at a special ceremony in Williamston earlier this year. He won reelection to his seventh consecutive term this year, making him District Four’s longest serving Senator.
He offered no hint of slowing down, telling the crowd that he hopes to continue enjoying serving his constituents beyond the next election as well. His wife, Gail O’Dell, was on hand as well. “Every time I get a pat on the back, Gail makes me take her to dinner,” the Senator told The Journal, as the two slipped out of the Council chambers following the presentation.
Also recognized by the Council and Ms. Wilson was Ben Otto Sunderman, whose extensive efforts to establish an ADA compliant fishing dock at the Dr. James Timmerman River Access Facility on the Saluda River in Pelzer, resulted in his recognition as an Eagle Scout by the Boy Scouts of America. Sunderman was accompanied by more than a dozen members of Troop 97, from the Montessori School.
Sunderman, who is confined to a wheelchair himself, spent more than 500 hours on the project, and as he said in his remarks, “stole hundreds of Sundays from the lives” of his troop members who provided the physical labor needed. Sunderman organized and supervised the effort which established a safe and disability accessible fishing facility along the Saluda.
Ms. Wilson told Sunderman she looks forward to seeing the next chapter in his story. “I plan to continue pursuing this kind of opportunity,” he assured her.