Storms delay unit system change

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recent flooding throughout the county has added another obstacle to the county’s move to a unit system, County engineer Darren Capps said Monday.

Capps said he stands by his initial prediction of a June start date, a prediction he made after the commission’s January decision to transform the way the county operates its road and bridge management system.

“Of course, we’re facing a time issue,” Capps said. “I’ve always been shooting for June since we had those two paving projects we need to finish, and now with the flooding we had, June really seems like a realistic date.”

Dates for the reported move have been pushed farther into the future since the measure was passed in January, moving from April 1 to May 1 and now to June. Preliminary calculations predict the closing of at least two “county yards” and a reduction in equipment will save the county an estimated $250,000.

Capps said the bulk of his time this month has been spent riding with state and federal emergency management representatives surveying the damage to the county’s roads and bridges.

“I was making good progress with my plan for the unit system, then the rain came and put a kink in it,” he said. “For the last three or four weeks, (repairing roads is) all this office has been working on. Now we’re at the point where we can start filling out project worksheets to get assistance, but there’s a lot of work attached to that. Every road in this county has to be looked at.”

While it is “a lot of work” and has impacted the unit system implementation date, Capps asks that residents have patience with his office.

“Believe it or not, the county is better off after (receiving storm damage),” he said. “By getting government help, that means we’re going to be getting better roads and better bridges. It’s a little bad on the front end with the detours and whatnot, but in the long run it’s going to be better.

“My goal is June for the unit system — but that date, too depends on FEMA and the paving projects,” he said. “It’s going to work out. There is going to be some growing pains, but I want to make the transition as smooth as possible. With the bulk of these projects finished, the transition will be much easier.”

Gov. Bob Riley has asked President Barack Obama to declare a major disaster area in 20 counties — including Covington — that received storm damage between March 30 and April 3. His request covers both public assistance (for counties and municipalities) and individual assistance (for homeowners).

Through public assistance, FEMA would cover 75 percent of the cost for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement or restoration of publicly owned facilities such as roads and bridges that were damaged. Individual assistance provides federal help for citizens whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance.

State officials say they expect to be notified by the end of this week about Obama’s decision.