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East Franklin residents look for help on road repairs

Members of the Franklin County Commission met with local citizens of the East Franklin Community at East Franklin Junior High Thursday evening to discuss the condition of certain area roads and the ongoing efforts by the county to get them fixed.

The roads in question are in a state of disrepair because of the tornado that came through April 27, 2011. The storm itself caused some damage, but the cleanup effort after the weather event took a greater toll on the infrastructure in the community.

Probate Judge Barry Moore, Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments (NACOLG) representative Kenneth Brooks and County Engineer David Palmer spoke to the concerned citizens about the process of securing funds to get the much-needed repair work done.

The County Commission is seeking around $2 million of the available funds to get the repair work done.

“These roads are only going to apply to those in the path of the tornado,” Moore said. “Any road outside of the path of the tornado will be disqualified.

“If we go in there and pave a road that’s outside of the tornado path, they will come back and check, and I am too young to go to jail.”

The Alabama/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded money to different areas affected by the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in a previous grant, but a second contribution has been announced to continue filling the need for repair funds across the six counties affected by the weather.

Franklin County received a portion of the first grant, but not enough to complete all of the projects that arose after April 27. Since HUD has announced a second Community Development Block Grant (CDBG grant), the County Commission is doing what it can to secure a portion of the new funds to complete the necessary projects.

“The county does not have the money to fix these roads, but this grant can be used and does not have to be matched by the county,” Moore said.

There are 18 to 19 miles of road in question in East Franklin. The CDBG grant will be $25 million, but that money must be split between the six affected counties.

“The state does not have to put any ratio of that money into these two counties, so it is a very competitive process,” Brooks said, referring to Franklin and Marion counties.

Not only is the process very competitive, but time consuming as well.

“It’s not a simple three or four page application that you finish and turn in,” Moore said. “It takes weeks and a lot of long hours to get everything we need in there.”

“These things can take a lot of time to come through,” Brooks said. “By law these monies have to be spent within two years.

“I know that sounds like a long time to get things done, but in government that’s the speed of light.”

According to Palmer, the County Commission has tried to get the money to fix these road problems in the past. Completing road work has become increasingly more difficult during Palmer’s tenure, as budget constraints have made his work force drop from 45 people to a current total of 18.

That means there are only 18 people available to upkeep 850 miles of road and 300 bridges, according to Palmer.

“We tried immediately after the storm to get FEMA money,” he said. “We road the roads with FEMA personnel and we discussed how our roads had been damaged, not by the storms but by the cleanup process.

“These roads were not in the best of shape before the storm, but afterwards it put these roads in such a condition that we can’t do anything with them.

“When the first round of grant money came through we tried to get some of it, but we were unsuccessful. Some other projects were deemed more important.

“It’s very difficult to get this kind of money for roadwork, but this is a special circumstance. I am ever the optimist, but I believe we have a good shot at getting this money.”