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Bridge repairs in Lincoln County are a pressing matter

A trio of teenagers asked the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors for forgiveness Monday.

The plea from the teens came after they were caught for the act of painting graffiti on a county bridge.

The apologies — uttered one by one — ironically came just before the board met for a worksession to discuss funding for road and bridge improvements.

The teenagers — along with the mothers of two of them — came before the board to express apologies for painting their names on a bridge in District 5. Two other teenagers couldn’t be there. One was sick and the other had to work.

District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey located the teens through school contacts and gave them a choice. They could apologize to the board for their actions and promise not to repeat their behavior rather than face legal punishment. Accompanied by a Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy, the teens did so, one at a time, asking the members of the board to forgive their actions.

“I don’t know why we did it,” one of them said. “It was just something stupid.”

Falvey and other supervisors stressed to the teens that the cost to the county to repaint a bridge averages $3,500 including labor.

Any damage over $1,000 is a felony, even for juveniles.

“We appreciate the apologies. We just want it to stop,” Falvey said. “We’re not going to be as lenient next time.”

After the teenagers and their mothers left, the board got down to the nitty gritty of their worksession — dividing the county’s 304 bridges into a pecking order for repairs.

County engineer Ryan Holmes and Jeff Dungan, both of Dungan Engineering, brought the board a preliminary analysis and cost estimate of repairing bridges with the most need.

Dungan estimated that if all the bridges across the county were to be repaired and brought up to correct standards, the cost could reach nearly $13.5 million.

Lincoln County has 304 bridges, 108 of which have some wooden components. Holmes said Lincoln County is one of three counties in the state with the most bridges that include timber. He believes Lincoln County has the most.

Of the timber bridges inspected by Dungan Engineering, 89 were rated in either as serious, critical or imminent failure.

The supervisors were given a list of all the lowest-rated bridges, divided into each supervisory district, an estimate of repair costs and a date of when that bridge would come up next for inspection.

Holmes asked the board to review the list and to order them by what they considered to be the most pressing repair or replacement needs to the least. He’ll take that list and give them a cost estimate for fixing the bridges that are assigned the highest priority for repair.

He’d like to see them repair as many as possible.

“We’ve asked the Legislature to help in the means they can help, which is through a user fee tax,” said Dungan. “But the local people are going to wind up paying for them. We’ve asked and asked and nothing’s gotten done.”

“What’s more important?” asked Falvey. “Widening Hwy. 550 by 4 feet or fixing our bridges?”

“We’re hoping they’ll go into session in January and make this a priority,” added Holmes. “But to date, it hasn’t been a priority.”

“We can’t sit here as a board and let all this crumble,” said District 3 Supervisor Nolan Williamson. “But we’re still going to play right into Jackson’s hands. They’re going to sit up there and say, ‘Look at us — we didn’t raise taxes, these people did’.”

Dungan stressed the urgency of addressing the bridge problems immediately. He said an inspection crew from District 7 of the Mississippi Department of Transportation recently showed up unexpectedly in Oktibbeha, Adams and Washington counties to inspect bridges independently of the supervisors or the scheduled, mandated federal inspections. The inspectors closed two bridges in Oktibbeha, three in Adams, and nine in Washington.

“They’ll eventually get here,” Dungan said. “You want to be ready when they do.”

The supervisors have until July 31 to return their priority rankings to Holmes for further cost estimates.

In other business, the board voted prior to the worksession to a mini excavator requested by District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown.