At its meeting Tuesday, the Fort Payne City Council discussed the slow pace of efforts to eliminate Joe’s Truck Stop. Mayor Larry Chesser said he received a lot of questions about the infamous concrete slab at the base of Lookout Mountain after yet another crash there on Sept. 2.
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) told Chesser that construction plans are in the works, but it could still take at least five years until property owners are contacted for land acquisition, environmental assessments are completed and actual dirt starts moving to extend Wallace Avenue to connect with a railroad overpass and come out at the South Y, thus eliminating the deadly 90-degree turn at the bottom of the mountain and giving trucks losing their brakes while descending the steep grade more of an opportunity to slow down.
Chesser said the number of wrecks have decreased since a brake check station was added at the top of the mountain, but it is on the honor system with no real enforcement. City Council member Wade Hill said the five year estimate sounded “about right” and “that’s as good as we’re going to get. Let’s not give up on this conversation.”
Hill noted that some local property owners complained of calls about acquiring their land, but at this time, such inquiries would not come from anyone with the city.
City Attorney Rocky Watson said he recalls attending public meetings about fixing Joe’s Truck Stop since at least September 1974. J.D. Faulkner erected the first concrete barrier in the late 1950s to protect his family’s property.
In other business, the council also:
• passed a resolution asking State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter to introduce a local act to amend Section 39-7-14 and 39-7-15 of the Code of Alabama (1975) that prevents city council members from serving on the boards of improvement authorities.
Council members now serve on other utility boards for terms as long as five years, but a 2006 change to the state law specified that improvement authority trustees, who are appointed by the governing body of a city for three year terms, are prohibited from holding public office under a municipality.
Watson said Tuesday’s resolution came at the request of the improvement authority, which wants to extend trustee terms to five years because the additional two years of experience on the board might help it to better function. Watson praised Mike Shirey on improving interactions with the city since taking over as FPIA’s general manager in 2017.
City Council member Lynn Brewer said there would be benefits to appointing a city official to act as a liaison to the FPIA since economic development projects frequently overlap.
City officials have served on the FPIA board in the past, not always without controversy. In 1984, the city eliminated health benefits and annuity payments that trustees were receiving and stopped all extra benefits except the base pay set by state law, according to media reports. Tuesday’s resolution would only affect future trustee appointments, and Watson said they aren’t sure if any change will actually happen. It wouldn’t happen any sooner than the Spring.
The improvement authority was created in 1940 when the city entered into an agreement to purchase power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Shirey declined to comment for this article.
• changed the next council meeting from Oct. 6 to Oct. 13 to avoid conflicting with the municipal run-off election.
Mayor-elect Brian Baine encouraged everyone to pray about the candidates and turn out to vote. He said the city has had “a good council for the last four years, and we appreciate their hard work and wish them luck.”
Watson praised election officials Ronnie Warren and Don Fischer for the way the August 25 election was handled and noted that the incumbents had worked in a transparent manner, even if they have not always agreed. He said citizens have occasionally “seen the sausage being made” and some projects taking a while to reach fruition “because that’s the process of getting things right.”
• voted to install additional security cameras on the north end of the Alabama Walking Park after a new Sacred Places Open Spaces Garden has been repeatedly vandalized.
• voted to abate the fees for the soccer program concession operation so the kids are not put at health risk handling money at the entry gate.
• voted to install two speed tables on McCurdy Loop, as recommended by Fort Payne Police Chief Randy Bynum.