Road, bridge panel vows to hold public discussions

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some residents wait years for the county to pave their roads while others move quickly to the top of the list, a subcommittee of the Cape Girardeau County Road and Bridge Advisory Board reported Monday night.

The subcommittee also found cases of the county rejecting paving requests because of a single recalcitrant landowner while residents along another road are receiving blacktop despite neighbors unwilling to make the concessions required under county policies.

Four members of the road board spent almost two hours Monday afternoon reviewing paving requests on file at the county highway department. Each packet for a county road is supposed to have a signed easement giving the county up to 30 feet for the road, ditches and utilities for each landowner along the stretch to be paved.

In the report to the board, Ken Evans of Apple Creek Township said the subcommittee found several variances with the county's written policies. But he said the important question isn't why there are discrepancies but how to improve the process so county residents will understand and trust the decisions as they are made.

Board chairman Larry Payne of Randol Township agreed, adding that "finger-pointing is not going to do us any good."

Instead, Payne said, the subcommittee needs to continue its work, then present it to the county commission and the public and hold meetings seeking a public response.

"We need to try to get away from some of these perceptions around the county of favoritism," Payne said. "We need to get away from the perception of things being done behind closed doors."

The meeting Monday evening was the advisory board's third session. The board 12-member board was created after voters in August approved giving the county a permanent tax to generate millions of dollars for paving work and law enforcement. Of the 12 members, 10 represent county townships, one member is appointed at-large and county highway administrator Scott Bechtold holds a non-voting slot.

The half-cent sales tax takes effect Jan. 1. The county will begin receiving revenue from the tax in March and in 2007 hopes to complete its most ambitious year of paving ever by putting blacktop on almost nine miles of gravel road.

The tax won approval by a bare 131-vote majority. During the campaign leading up to the vote, displeasure with county practices was apparent at several public meetings.

Board members voted to keep the current county paving policy, first adopted in 1999, at their last meeting on Nov. 6. But Monday's discussion showed that the policies will be open to revision after a full study of current practices is complete. By bringing understanding and order to that information, the board agreed, it can then look at a logical method for selecting roads for paving.

The board also began a discussion of methods, costs and desirability of dust control measures along county roads. Member David Blumenberg of Hubble Township reported on some preliminary work he had done to examine various measures for dust abatement, ranging from applying chemicals such as calcium chloride to putting a layer of oil or thin asphalt over the gravel roadbed.

"You can make a lot more people happy for the same bounce of the ball" by investing in dust control, Blumenberg said.

The advisory board decided to appoint a formal subcommittee to study dust control issues and bring recommendations to the full board for consideration. In addition to Blumenberg, the board assigned the task to Kenny Spooler of Kinder Township, George Miller of Whitewater Township and John Helderman of Liberty Township.

Dust control is costly, Helderman said, but it could be very popular. "Maybe this is some money to spend that is not a bargain, but it is buying us peace," he said.

Board members also discussed the limitations of their role. Payne said, to general assent, that questions about specific problems on specific roads need to be referred to the county commission or to Bechtold.

335-6611, extension 126

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