On Monday, March 19, the Eutaw City Hall was filled to capacity with citizens angry and distressed about the failure to repair the roads in Branch Heights and King Village.
Members of the Greene County Commission, the Eutaw City Council and both city and county Housing Authorities, along with their attorneys, were present at the meeting.
Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele opened the meeting by advising the crowd that the opportunity to apply for grants existed but a major requirement was that someone had to own the roads.
Branch Heights resident Corey Cockrell told the group that “Every time we come to election time, someone wants to fix the roads. It happens every four years. We are tired of being insulted!”
He added that the condition of the roads was so bad that residents and visitors were tearing up their vehicles.
County Engineer Arzo Abrams has said from the beginning the roads were not built to handle the amount of traffic they bear and the lack of money to make necessary repairs has excerbated the problem.
At one point in time, Branch Heights was not legally in the Eutaw City Limits. However, in late 2003, a bill was passed to annex the entire community into the city limits. This was postponed for several months by a suit filed by a group who banded together to try and stop the annexation. They failed, and the problem with getting enough money to fix the roads seems to increase annually.
City Atty. Mike Smith said that there were several problems in getting grants to fix the roads – one of which was that the roads are actually owned by the Federal Government.
He also said that at one time there was $250,000 available for the roads, but someone had to be a sponsoring entity – either the county or the city. Also, at that point in time, it would have taken approximately $4 million to do the job and no entity wanted to assume that amount of debt.
One suggestion was to merge the two housing authorities. Councilman Joe Lee Powell, a resident of Branch Heights, said that would not be fair because only Mayor Steele and County Commission Chairman William Underwood would have the authority to appoint members of the authority.
Dee Powell, a former Branch Heights resident, said that HUD would not award a $4 million grant.
Atty. Smith said the money would not come from HUD – that there were grants from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Steele said that the funding was available from the state through a program called ATRAP, but to be eligible to apply some entity must own the roads.
“The city is willing to accept the roads,” he said, indicating that was providing the two housing authorities were merged.
After more pro and con arguments, Commissioner Elzora Fluker advised everyone that “This situation started back in 1974. The Rev. Branch was chair of the Commission and he signed a statement that the commission would accept authority for the roads. The paperwork was never done; nothing was ever filed in the Courthouse – never filed in Birmingham. The paperwork has to be done. Once the property was annexed into the city, the county has no right to go in there unless the city gives the property back to the county.
Commissioner Allen Turner. Jr. questioned the benefit for the county in taking Branch Heights back when they are already struggling to get money for county roads.
Commission Attorney Hank Sanders told him, “Sometimes when something happens, we get hung up with the history and can’t deal with the present. The county and the city can enter into an agreement about the roads.”
Mrs. Rosie Carpenter suggested that the four lawyers present get together and “work out what can be worked out.”
Finally, it was agreed that the city try for the ATRIP grant with help from the county grant writers and make a decision later as to who owns the roads. It was the concensus that it will take from $6 to $10 million to fix the roads and some of the residents present at the meeting seemed to doubt if they could even get enough money to patch them.
“Yes, we can do that,” replied Steele, “once we’ve decided who is going to own the roads .”
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