By David Meade
Gatewood residents expressed frustrations and concerns about the entrance into their subdivision during the Williamston Town Council meeting Monday.
Concerns ranged from the safety of school buses, emergency vehicles and a Leachate tanker crossing the damaged entrance to what will happen if the entrance becomes impassable.
Matthew Johnson said that the notice that school buses would not be going over the entrance raised concerns for him that emergency vehicles including ambulances or fire trucks would also not be safe crossing the overpass.
Johnson stated that the town’s elected officials, particularly the mayor, were not living up to their oath of office. He said that the residents access was cut off for a few hours during a rain event Christmas week and the potential is there to be cut off longer. He suggested that town employees were acting outside their scope by allowing vehicles to be driven over the damaged roadway overpass. He said from a budget standpoint, “health and safety should be first. Not crap tankers rolling over the road first.”
Brandon Parham pointed out that town ordinances prohibit transfer trucks from residential streets, yet the leachate truck is allowed into their subdivision.
He said replacement of the two 64 inch metal pipes that make up the entrance overpass would require a six to eight pylon bridge. He also stated state code requires cities and towns to repair streets and bridges.
James Bowman said he had been fighting with the town for 20 years and predicted the leachate trucks would eventually cause problems with the entrance roadway which he said is “very unsafe.”
He said he had contacted an attorney about the matter and that residents “have a lot of rights.”
Several times during the comments, questions were asked directly to council and the mayor. Mayor Durham said council does not respond during public comments but he would address the situation later in the meeting.
It was clear the 10 or so Gatewood residents attending the meeting wanted a dialog and answers.
After the public comments, Ward 2 Councilman Rockey Burgess made a motion, which was approved unanimously, to amend the agenda to allow discussion on the matter.
Mayor Mack Durham repeatedly stated that county engineers have determined the entrance, which crosses Big Creek is safe for one lane travel until permanent repairs can be made.
Durham said the situation had been an urgent concern of council since August. He explained that when the town approached the Anderson County Transportation Committee, the ACTC was undergoing a structural change to require a single engineer for ACTC projects which delayed funding and repair work.
He said that an engineer firm was approved at the Dec. 4 ACTC meeting and that survey work on the site has been done.
Durham said he was told that changes in flood zone designation required additional FEMA and DHEC permitting which would require six to eight weeks. He also stated the construction phase would require another two months.
Durham said that Anderson County Roads and Bridges Director Holt Hopkins declared safe passage on the street.
“We have been assured that truck, fire truck and EMS can cross the entrance and that the single lane access is safe.”
“Believe me there is not a councilman up here who would not want to get it repaired,” the mayor said. “It is unfortunate that the funding source has delayed repairs.”
Durham told those speaking out that he saw them as “supportive” in getting the problem fixed. “Your outcry does nothing but help us and support us,” he said in making the situation an urgent one for the ACTC funding and construction.
He said the next ACTC meeting is Jan. 12 at 4 p.m.and urged Gatewood residents to attend.
Councilman Burgess, who represents the Gatewood residents, said he agreed that there seems to be no sense of urgency in getting the problem fixed.
He said that town funding for a $300,000 to $500,000 project is not there and he did not like that the town had to beg the county for money collected from the gas tax which is supposed to be used for road repairs. He also pointed out that there was not an established weight limit for entrance roadway.
He said that the $117,000 in funding that came from leachate dumping fees went toward the town’s water and sewer enterprises. If that was eliminated, Burgess said the town would have to make it up by increasing rates.
Additional dialog that followed led to more heated responses from the audience.
One resident said, “None of you up there live in that subdivision. What would happen if you did. If it was your child or your family.”
Parham spoke up again saying that Gatewood residents had been “used and abused by the city to send sewer yet we don’t get the same upkeep and faicilty maintenance.”
There were other complaints about potholes and a water leak in the subdivision.
James said he had a front end alignment bill for his vehicle that he wanted to turn in.
Councilman Burgess eventually said, “It sound like the major issue is that transfer truck continues to exasperbate the situation. I will make a motion to stop the truck from coming into the subdivision. Mayor Durham seconded the motion and council unanimously approved.
Following that there was additional questions and discussion about the roadway collapsing and alternatives if it did.
Mayor Durham said the road is being monitored and again stated “The information we have is that the single lane is safe to travel.”
The problem with the entrance roadway began in August after heavy rains created a washout effect around the two pipes that allow Big Creek to flow under the road. A portion of the pavement has collapsed into a hole created where soil has eroded around the pipe. Rain during the holidays caused additional erosion.
The problem is compounded by an 18-wheel tanker truck which crosses the overpass on a regular basis transporting leachate from the Anderson Regional Landfill to the town’s Waste Water Treatment Plant for processing.
The town began accepting the leachate when it was going through tough financial times several years ago and the fees helped the town get out of the financial distress.