By Blenda Copeland
Some were asking: why would the Russell County Commission approve an unbudgeted expense of up to $7,000 for a study on land that’s mostly controlled by the federal government?
And where is the commission going to pull the money from?
The questions popped up when the commission approved a request from James McGill, director of special projects for the Phenix City-Russell County Chamber of Commerce.
McGill was briefing the commission on the status of a proposed west gate entrance to Fort Benning.
“We’re building a brand new route,” McGill said in an interview after the meeting. The west gate bridge would be different from Fort Mitchell’s existing back entrance to Fort Benning from Highway 165.
The route McGill was referencing would extend from County Road 24 northeast to the Eddy Bridge – an approximate distance of about two miles or less. It would be in the vicinity of the next intersection after the intersection that’s near Rainbow Foods in Fort Mitchell.
The project is one McGill’s been working on since November 2005. But talk of the project dates back seven years, he said.
McGill said in order to move forward, three major steps were required: first, get permission to enter that area, because most of it is federally-controlled land. That step was completed in January. The second step was to get the commission to approve spending up to an estimated $7,000 on a corridor location study. McGill said the county hasn’t had to do one of those since the ‘70s because most of today’s projects are on roads that have already had such studies done. The deadline on that step was the end of March. The third step is having an Environmental Assessment/or Environmental Impact Study (EIS), whichever is required. Those kinds of studies address existing issues and impacts that roadwork could have on habitats of red cockaded woodpeckers, tortoises and other such populations--if any--and other environmental factors. Such a study’s timeline could span about 90 days or longer.
Along the way, all steps of the process are subject to review and approval by Fort Benning/federal officials.
McGill said there’s no guarantee federal officials will approve the project. But if they do approve it, commissioners could expect an additional waiting period of 18-28 months.
The tradeoffs for the county are: increased traffic safety where some of Fort Mitchell’s newest subdivisions are clustered, a corridor that could enhance growth and development, and a direct route to Fort Benning from that part of the county.
The majority of commissioners supported the west gate project. The lone opposing voice was Commissioner Gentry Lee’s. He said since the west gate would be on mostly federally-controlled land, he’d rather give first preference to other local roads and projects. “I can’t put it (the west gate project) over some of the other things that we need to do,” he said.
All commissioners except Lee voted in favor of spending the money. One commissioner asked County Administrator LeAnn Horne a question before casting a vote. The commissioner wanted to know if the county’s budget could accommodate the unbudgeted $7,000 request. Horne replied, “I’ll do my best.”