Fort Payne following up on lingering problems

The Fort Payne City Council revisited several issues at its Tuesday meeting, including the possible transfer of land to the county for a new tourism center, getting some clarity on the costs of eliminating Joe’s Truck Stop and dealing with a wild hog problem.

Mayor Brian Baine wanted to know if the Council still supported giving the county a portion of the land next to Jefferson’s that is now filled with large piles of dirt before restarting the conversation with DeKalb County Commission President Ricky Harcrow and Administrator Matt Sharp.

The previous Tourism DeKalb building has sat empty since Easter Sunday 2020, when flood waters destroyed equipment and tourist information. Staff has worked remotely during the pandemic, but Executive Director John Dersham previously told the city his office needs to be visible from Interstate 59 and easily accessible. Local officials previously discussed a 2,000-square-foot metal building with an ornate façade to make it more attractive to visitors.

If the property is deeded to the county “as is,” it will fall on the county to take care of soil compaction and other prep work. Council member Johnny Eberhart said the city will need to recoup the costs of pipes previously installed and Council member John Smith said the lot is “prime retail space” for thinking about what stores could go next to such a welcome center.

The mayor will set up a work session including someone from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) who can provide firm cost estimates on options for eliminating “Joe’s Truck Stop.” Serious wrecks have happened there for decades as large trucks coming down the mountain lose their brakes and cannot decelerate enough to navigate the almost 90-degree turn.

Among the solutions discussed are an extension of Wallace Avenue to straighten the road and bypass the curve, placing the turn further south along Eighth Street South, possibly in combination with a railroad overpass since motor traffic frequently backs up as trains heading in different directions routinely switch tracks along downtown. Another alternative discussed is keeping the turn by installing a runaway truck ramp like the ones drivers see on steep mountain drives like Monteagle outside Nashville.

Any option will involve acquiring land and require time and millions of dollars. Baine said the latest estimate from ALDOT to extend the road to Eighth Street South without an overpass is $21.7 million. The city had set aside bond issue money to come up with matching funds, but this year’s budget shortfall has the council rethinking an overpass.

Council President Pro Tem Lynn Brewer said it is “frustrating” to get different estimates and requested Baine set up the work session with ALDOT, also inviting Dist. 8 State Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and Alabama House Majority Leader Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville.

Council member Johnny Eberhart said the costs of eliminating Joe’s Truck Stop have risen so much that he’s not sure whether the city should even bother. Council member John Smith said trains stopped and blocking intersections is a problem that “just never stops.”

Smith also agreed that wild hogs have become a big problem, digging up yards in sections of town.

“Across the ridge coming into my yard, [Police Chief David] Davis is going to start getting reports about [assault rifles] going off at 3 in the morning,” Smith said.

Baine said he’s gotten calls about packs of wild hogs with 40-50 animals each. Previous Mayor Larry Chesser had discussed the issue at a Council meeting, but no contract was ever entered into with a company that set traps for the beasts at a cost of $35 per hog, plus an hourly rate of $35.

“Last year, this company said they removed 100 hogs in 45 days for right at $5,200,” Baine said.

Eberhart said the hogs are “definitely a problem we’ve got to do something about. It’s just getting to be more and more, moving out further and further, digging up yards and that sort of thing.”

“What we’ve been doing isn’t working,” Brewer agreed. “We’ve got to get rid of them.”

Baine said success depends on citizen buy-in due to the need to place traps on private property.

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