Marston residents are concerned about emergency services and fire rescue response time after the widening of U.S. 1 left the entrances to Stroman and Marston roads closed. Both the North Carolina Department of Transportation and CSX determined it best to close the roads where crossings saw less than 100 cars each day.
About 40 families were represented by Lewis Alsbrook at the Richmond County Board of Commissioners’ monthly meeting on Monday evening. Alsbrook lives in the Marston community and said he and other citizens are concerned about the closed roads.
“We feel like the Department of Transportation has placed us in a death trap,” Alsbrook said, about receiving no warning the roads would be closed. “There was never any mention about closing Stroman Road and there (are other) such issues at Marston Road. We’ve been placed in harm’s way. If a train stops, we have to go to Lauren Hill to get to civilization.
“We are asking the support of the county that we can get another right of way, or who is going to be responsible when these things come up?” said Alsbrook, who said he had a medical emergency at his house after the roads were closed.
Chairman of the Board Kenneth Robinette said he learned about this and drove out to the location to see for himself. He said he spoke with several homeowners, and got County Manager Rick Sago and Emergency Services Director Donna Wright involved.
Wright said she spoke with the Marston Fire Chief Frank McKay about taking a firetruck or ambulance down the only single-lane dirt road providing access to that community.
“He said the road was not optimal but it was passable,” reported Wright to the Board of Commissioners. “The DOT has been closing crossings. There’s not really a right or wrong answer.”
Commissioner Peggy Covington addressed Wright directly.
“How can you say that road is passable? It’s a dirt road. If two cars meet on the road, they have to back out. There is no shoulder. Maybe in the old days it would have been acceptable when people were accustomed to that, but you wouldn’t have your emergency vehicles go down that road. The sign says ‘no outlet,’ so why are you saying there is access? It’s not suited for use in the community. To say it’s OK is wrong.”
“I said Frank McKay said it was passable, but not optimal,” said Wright in defense.
“We don’t have a dog in this fight,” said Sago. “The rail division has recommended closing the crossings because less than 100 cars go through there a day.”
“Any frustration needs to be pointed to DOT,” said Robinette.
Commissioner John Garner asked Wright if there was a delay in emergency service response time due to the road closings, and Wright said there were none that she was aware of.
“We’ll fight the other fight later, but my first priority is to get to the citizen that’s in need,” said Wright.
Garner suggested trying to get the road paved. The road, which crosses through the Sandhills Gamelands, is 1.3 miles long and is maintained by the Wildlife Resources Commission. The board agreed to pursue the paving of the dirt road.
In other county news:
• Don Richardson spoke to the board about the Ellerbe Wastewater project. He said he would have constructed the plans differently, to which Robinette and Sago responded that it wasn’t their project and they were satisfied with the plans and trusted the engineers from Hobbs, Upchurch and Associates, P.A. to do a good job.
• A public hearing was held to confirm assessments on two demolished structures. Richmond County Planning and Zoning Director of GIS James Armstrong said, “This is the first year someone has come in and paid the total demolition cost. They’ve been removed from the assessment roll. I wasn’t sure where to send them to pay it, it’s been so long.”
The property owners were Grace and Michael Stroman, and the assessment total for their property was $3,176. The other property is owned by Sara McMillan and Vicky Murphy and the assessment total for their property was $11,088. Armstrong said he has been in touch with the daughter of McMillan, as her mother has recently suffered a stroke.
• Clean-up at the TNS Mill in East Rockingham is continuing and comments from the community have been positive, according to commissioners.
• Sago gave a State of the County presentation to the board to inform them of economic development progress. Sago said he speaks to prospects about the central location of Richmond County, with highways expanding in all four directions; about the cost of living being less than in other places and about the available workforce in the county being retrained by new programs available at Richmond Community College.
• Director of Public Works Bryan Land gave a department update, and said the Richmond County Airport received $600,000 from the Department of Transportation and Aviation to extend the taxiway, which has been a major safety concern. Land said the recycling at the schools is under way, lighting has been upgraded in several county buildings and new HVAC units have been installed in several county buildings as well. One building had a boiler from 1946 still in operation; the oldest seen operating by the department staff.
• Emergency Services Director Wright said her staff is cross-training. Wright is partnering with Armstrong on a project to synchronize their GIS data for consistency. Scholarships for GIS training through the community college have been secured. Wright will receive an updated 9-1-1 dispatch console, and plans to give the old one to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
• A request by the Humane Society of Richmond County for approval to reappoint Mark Pankey as Animal Cruelty Investigator was granted.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.