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Hawkins highway flood damage repairs absorbing paving funds

Jeff Bobo • Mar 26, 2019 at 9:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Funding set aside for paving Hawkins County highways this year is being absorbed by the cost of repairing roads that were damaged or washed away as a result of last month’s massive flooding disaster.

Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean told the Hawkins County Commission Monday he doesn’t have the exact cost of the damage countywide, but the Mooresburg Springs Road slide alone is expected to exceed $100,000.

Bean estimates that the overall cost could reach $500,000.

Hawkins County was inundated with rain throughout February, leading to a massive slide that took out a section of Route 70-N on Feb. 21, as well as a slide that took out a section of Route 66-N on Feb. 24.

Those are state highways being repaired by the Tennessee Department of Transportation at a cost of more than $15 million.

During that same weekend, however, county roads experienced multiple slides and destruction as well.

The damage will be repaired with existing highway department funds, but Bean said that will greatly decrease the amount of paving that gets done this spring.

Bean told commissioners that when their constituents complain about a road or bridge not being fixed this year, “That’s where the money went.

"It’s going to hurt this spring when we start working on roads, and we can’t pave as many as we normally do,” Bean said. “We can’t chip and seal as many as we normally do. But just be thankful we’ve got a road to run on.”

The only road that remains closed is Mooresburg Springs Road, which had a section slide into Cherokee Lake. 

The highway department hasn’t addressed that slide yet because it’s still moving, and Bean doesn’t anticipate the highway being repaired at least until mid-summer.

The only other major project remaining is repairing Miller Bluff Road, which is open, although there are cones alerting motorists where the damage occurred.  

However, Bean said, everyday little problems pop up that need to be addressed, usually where asphalt was undercut by water and is collapsing. 

Although he hadn’t tallied up the total cost of flooding damage, Bean was able to give commissioners a few examples of how much certain projects cost.

“Early Branch finished. It cost $22,838, and most of that was rock,” Bean said. “Rock is the big expense. Black Sheep Hollow, we had to put a bridge in after it washed out the bridge, road and the tile. That was close to $12,000. Bird Creek has slides that cost $6,000. Shiloh Church Road was $10,000. This is four projects for about $53,000, and we still have more than 20 to go.”

Bean noted that he recently received $176,000 as part of a federal soil conservation grant, which was a reimbursement for repairs his department made to flooding damage on AFG Road last year. He said that funding will go directly into rock, which is the biggest expense as far as materials used to repair slides.

Commissioners praised Bean and his staff for their hard work, and he noted that his crews have been working Saturdays and Sundays to get the roads repaired and reopened.

Bean also acknowledged the Washington County Highway Department for manpower and equipment assistance.

Ultimately Bean hopes to recoup some of the county’s expense through FEMA. He has 30 days to submit a complete list of repairs and expenses to the agency to seek federal assistance.

In other business Monday, the commission:

* Agreed to implement a minimum 60-day waiting period before a county employee is eligible for health insurance. Health insurance wold begin on the first day of the next month after the 60-day period ended.

For example, if the hire date was May 1, the employee would be eligible for health insurance on July 1. If the hire date was May 15, health insurance would begin on Aug. 1. Previously, an employee’s health insurance started on the first day of the next month after they started. The change was recommended by the Insurance Committee in light of problems caused due to heavy turnover among jail employees.

* Approved a $20,000 grant from Rural Access to Health and Healthy Environments for the Hawkins County Health Department to be used for promoting physical activities for Hawkins County citizens.

* Approved a budget amendment of $5,000 to cover the cost of part time staff in the Chancery Court clerk and master’s office.

* Approved $9,000 to cover the cost of training the new interim administrator of elections, who will be trained by Elections Administrator Donna Sharp beginning April 1 until she retires on July 1.

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