West F’ville Bypass not dead by a long shot

With last Tuesday’s election now history, the phrase “Twenty Five Complaining Landowners” now goes into the records as local buffoonery. The voters of Fayette County expressed their righteous indignation at the tactics employed by local officials to force a project on the voters that the voters didn’t want. You have to also commend them, though, for the slick way they did it.

First, they made the project literally “disappear” from the ballot by incorporating it into a laundry list of attachments that never made it to the 2003 SPOLST ballot people saw in the voting booth.

Then, once the 2003 SPLOST passed, the commissioners chose the West Bypass over other less expensive road, street and bridge projects. Next, the county sent unannounced surveyors to property that would later become Phase I, now nearly completed.

After complaints of trespass and eminent domain lawsuits from Phase I landowners, notices of the project’s alignment were sent out to Phase II landowners. Blind-sided, the Phase II landowners ultimately banded together to form the West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition.

WFBC members attended numerous commissioners’ meetings to vent their grievances, only to be told “you voted for the WFB,” and the commissioners were merely doing their job in pressing on with the project.

By that time furious, the WFBC took an objective look at public interest. During that time, it was learned that the proposed route coincided with large parcels of land (up to three-fourths of a mile) owned by major land developers.

With no rational basis for meeting its stated objective of “reducing traffic in Fayetteville,” with no traffic studies having been made, the WFBC carried its grievance to the public in a barrage of letters, articles and emails to individuals, newspapers, and federal agencies.

As things now stand, the project is under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for consideration of a 404 Clean Water Act Permit. Simply stated, the 404 Permit, if issued, will allow limited damage by the road to eight wetland areas for a mitigation fee somewhere in the area of $800,000.

The 404 Permit also requires that Fayette County, the applicant, show how the project is in the best interest of the public, and why the route chosen was less damaging to the environment than other alternatives.

The WFBC brought on board an environmental biologist and has retained an environmental law firm that is prepared to file a lawsuit against the county if the 404 Permit is granted. The county’s expense in defending the ensuing lawsuit would be borne by the taxpayers.

We now turn to those citizens who voted in favor of the anti-WFB campaign planks of commissioners-elect Brown and McCarty. Our new commissioners will need help in fulfilling their promise of stopping the WFB.

As you probably read in the July 2 Citizen, County Administrator Jack Krakeel has stated that the WFB funds cannot be diverted to another SPLOST project.

In contrast, Commissioner Maxwell had said at the Christchurch Commissioners Forum, sponsored by the Tea Party, that the only way a SPLOST project may be scrapped is by replacing it with another SPLOST project. Excerpts from the July 2 article read as follows:

“So the question is, can Fayette County decide to scrap the West Fayetteville bypass and pass the collected funds on to the municipalities?

The answer to that question is “no,” according to Fayette County Administrator Jack Krakeel. Asked to clarify that answer, Krakeel cited issues that prohibit such an action.

Krakeel noted the 1992 Georgia Supreme Court ruling (Dickey v. Storey) in which the court said a governing authority, “... is bound by the SPLOST budget and account reports to complete all projects listed therein unless circumstances arise which dictate that projects which initially seemed feasible are no longer so. In this regard, the governing authority has discretion to make adjustments in the plans for these projects but may not abandon the projects altogether.”

“So you just can’t abandon a project,” Krakeel said. “You have to complete the projects identified in the SPLOST.”

Also pertaining to the SPLOST projects, Krakeel said the Fayette intergovernmental resolution signed by the county and the municipalities identified the SPLOST projects. Of those, 70 percent of 1-cent revenues were designated for countywide projects while 30 percent went for projects in the various municipalities and specific areas of unincorporated Fayette, such as the paving of 100 miles of roads.

Krakeel said the 70 percent/30 percent designation in the SPLOST resolution is significant and essentially prohibits the potential for actions such as giving countywide bypass project dollars to those assigned under the agreement to municipalities or specific unincorporated areas.

“We are bound by the resolution and the SPLOST referendum approved by the voters. You can’t arbitrarily give 70 percent dollars to 30 percent projects,” Krakeel said. “The language is specific on how SPLOST funds can be utilized. The board (of commissioners) is restricted in their ability to modify the project and constrained by the Supreme Court ruling.”

Krakeel also noted that the initial engineering work for the project began in 2006. Consequently, any move to alter the project would have, out of necessity, required action prior to the time the current board took office, said Krakeel.

Even in cases where the governing authority experiences a shortfall in revenue collections, the approved projects can be scaled back but not abandoned, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

As for the East Fayetteville Bypass — on the SPLOST list but not being pursued at present — that project also requires federal funds, most of which are long range and not currently available, according to Fayette County Public Works Director Phil Mallon.”

What Mr. Krakeel did not address is how the county was able to abandon the East Bypass without downsizing it.

Further, regarding SPLOST funds already committed to a county project, no showing has been made that, once the 70/30 test for the initial WFB funding was met for that project, that it must be met again to transfer the WFB funds to another project.

But the WFB would not qualify under the feasibility test at this point in time ... at least that’s what the voters said last Tuesday. They don’t want it, but it won’t go away.

Since nobody in the county seems to want to take the stand in terms of proving the WFB to be a viable route to reducing Fayetteville traffic, do you suppose there might be a way for Mr. Krakeel and our County Attorney Scott Bennett to find some common ground with the new commissioners?

The county has bought at least two homes in the path of the WFB, Phase II, with no 404 Permit in hand.

Whoops! I almost forgot about Commissioner Lee Hearn. At a commissioners’ meeting some time ago, Mr. Hearn told me that the WFB “is my baby.” That being the case, Mr. Hearn should well be able to shed some light on just how the WFB justifies its hefty price tag.

I leave the price unstated, as it changes with every article I’ve read. I wonder if the county has included land acquisition and lawsuit costs in its estimate? Your audience, Mr. Hearn.

If any readers would like to assist Messrs. Brown and McCarty in fulfilling their pledge to stop the bypass, they should write, call and email the above county officials, making their opposition known. They should also start attending the commissioners’ meetings and speak out during the public comment time. One of the commissioners blamed our group as complaining about an issue we might have stopped had we attended the commission meetings.

Too bad the meetings aren’t held in the Georgia Dome, where all Fayette voters could be accommodated.

County Commission Mailing Address:

140 Stonewall Avenue West

Suite 100

Fayetteville, Georgia 30214

Phone: 770.305.5200

Fax: 770.305.5210

e-mail: cchandler@fayettecountyga.gov

Steve Smithfield

Fayette County, Ga.

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