By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Construction of the lignite-fired power plant in Kemper County has brought needed jobs and opportunities to the work force in Mississippi, but it has also brought problems to rural roads in Lauderdale County, according to county officials who want the damage to stop.
Wayman Newell, District 2 supervisor, said the trucks carrying heavy loads to the Mississippi Power plant construction site typically stay on state highways that are better suited for heavy trucks. Until now they have been allowed to travel some county roads on the return trip because the weight is considerably lighter. Even though the trucks are lighter on the return trip, there is still, according to Newell, significant damage occurring to these county roads. Highway 493 is used by many trucks to carry materials to the site, but on the way back, three roads being used by the empty trucks are Sunshine, Hillview, and Mt. Carmel Road, Newell said.
"Sunshine Road is to be resurfaced this year," Newell said. "If it is, I'm going to try to make them stay off of it."
Terrell Temple, county engineer, agrees that something should be done to protect the roads.
"We have segments of roads that were constructed 50 years ago to low-weight standards. These roads are adequate for standard residential traffic and an occasional heavy load," Temple said. "What is happening now, is we're having multiple trucks that are running through these roads as they are coming back from plant construction in Kemper County. Our roads are breaking down."
Temple said he is recommending that the county put a weight limit on the road, put patrol officers there, and stop the trucks from coming through.
"It is going to cause a detour by those trucks but it's something that the county taxpayers cannot afford to pay for," Temple said.
Looking at Mt. Carmel Road last week, Temple said it was in good shape just two years ago. Now it has potholes and cracks in many places and there are deep ruts hewn into the dirt on the side of the road in some areas where trucks have consistently gone a few inches off the pavement. That causes more cracks and more potholes eventually, Temple said, because it allows water underneath the pavement which ultimately starts to break the road down.
"Mississippi Power Company paid MDOT to upgrade Highway 493 from Highway 16 down to the power plant. Most of the heavy trucks are going that route up to Dekalb, up 16 and then down," Temple said. "The empty trucks are coming back along these county roads because it's significantly shorter."
Most of the empty trucks weigh approximately 30,000 pounds, Temple said, while fully loaded trucks with gravel, rocks, sand or other construction materials weigh about 80,000 pounds.
"These roads, under normal conditions, can handle 30,000 pounds," Temple said.
But repeated exposure to that weight is destructive, he said. Also, there is carelessness among some drivers.
"Running off the edge of the roads, high speeds, that's a great deal of the problem we're having now," Temple said. "It's a concern not only for the investment, but for the safety of the traveling public. They need to stay on designated, state highways that have the capacity to handle the weight and the frequency of the heavy traffic that we are experiencing now."
Kemper County officials have already worked on their road problems related to the construction project, Temple said.
"They have patrolmen that have been stopping it. With it being in Kemper County, the Mississippi Power personnel are able to monitor their subcontractors and their contractors more closely," Temple said.
Mississippi Power spokesperson Jeff Shepard said the company is keeping its commitment to engage the communities it serves and operates in, and is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in and around Kemper County.
"The company continues to work closely with all contractors and delivery drivers associated with the Kemper County energy facility, emphasizing safety in every aspect of the delivery process, including first and foremost, obeying all state laws," Shepard said. "Mississippi Power, along with Lauderdale and Kemper County officials, is continuing a detailed assessment of road damage and preferred trucking routes related to the facility. As part of this ongoing assessment, we will work with local officials to address any issues."
There are other issues affecting county residents as well. In a letter to The Meridian Star, John M. Semmes Sr. of the Prismatic community, near Bailey, said what began as a home that felt like a "little piece of heaven in 1992," has become like the "gates of hell."
That's due to the 2,500 or so cars that travel Highway 493 on the way to the construction site each day, Semmes said.
"I never thought that crossing the road to my mailbox would be a daily, life threatening experience," Semmes said. "There are certain times when it takes 20 minutes or more just to pull out of our driveway. Car wrecks have become a daily occurrence. Sooner or later someone is going to get killed."
Semmes said that from 5 until 8 a.m. and then again from 3 to 5 p.m. every day, Highway 493 is like the "Indy 500 race track."
"And then the 18-wheelers start their own runs," Semmes said. "These overloaded trucks have literally destroyed this road."
Semmes said he understands the plant has provided many jobs and revenue for the community, but he said he feels someone should have planned better for the traffic.
Traffic will likely ease up considerably when construction is finished. The project is on schedule to be completed by May 2014. More than 1,000 direct and indirect permanent positions will be in place once the facility opens, according to Mississippi Power estimates.