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Lawsuit Threat Could Sidetrack Bridge Project

This wooden bridge over Turkey Creek is one of seven remaining wooden bridges in the county. The bridge is located in District One, on County Road 131, and is scheduled to be replaced if the threat of a lawsuit doesn’t sidetrack the project. – Photo by David Howell

By David Howell

    A wooden bridge crossing Turkey Creek scheduled for replacement could be stopped after a former Yalobusha elected official threatened to sue the county in federal court.

    Former longtime tax assessor/collector Guy Dale Shaw, who owns property adjacent to the bridge, argued that the bridge replacement on County Road 131 would dam Turkey Creek, altering the water flow and damaging his property.

    Shaw, who attended the “first Monday” supervisors’ meeting in Water Valley at the request of county officials, was visibly agitated, targeting District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn for working to replace the bridge.

    “We are in the process of trying to get contracts signed for that road out there in your neighborhood and I understand there are some reservations on your part about what may happen if we do build it up,” Vaughn told Shaw as the dialogue started.

    “Have you ever thought about coming by the house?” Shaw asked.

    “Yes sir,” Vaughn answered.

    “Why didn’t you?” Shaw answered.

    “I knew you had some reservations, I got Willis (engineering),” Vaughn attempted to explain.

    “I just asked the sheriff if he would lock you up for trespassing on my property,” Shaw answered.

    “I just wanted the people to understand,” Vaughn countered.

    “The people! I own that property. You had no right to go on it without asking me. You think you can dam up Turkey Creek?” Shaw asked.

    “We have no intention of damming up Turkey Creek,” Vaughn answered, again telling Shaw that several representatives of Willis Engineering were in attendance at the  meeting to explain the project.

    “Did you know I was an engineer in school and I am a draftsman?” Shaw asked.

    “All I know is these people out there need that road,” Vaughn replied.

    “Who needs it?” Shaw asked.

    “The people who use it. There are several homes on that road. It could be used for a school bus route. It is used for a mail route and it has a 6,000 weight (limit) bridge on it,” Vaughn answered.

    All that bridge needs is a set of runners, and I will just be more than happy to donate it,” Shaw said.

    Shaw also asked for Board Attorney John Crow to be excused, after Crow asked Board President Amos to keep Shaw from deviating from the bridge topic.

    “I want him excused,” Shaw said.

    “John is a part of the board and he will remain at this table,” Sims told Shaw. “Now we are going to allow you time, Mr. Shaw, but we are not get out into things…”

    “Okay,” Shaw answered, before again questioning the work of the county’s engineering firm.

    “Mr. Shaw, make your case or we are going to have to have the sheriff ask you to be excused, now,” Sims reiterated.

    “My attorney told me not to even come, we are going to federal court,” Shaw responded. Shaw then presented supervisors a bill for his dirt to fix the bridge.

    “You can’t dam up Turkey Creek. The Corps of Engineers don’t even know what to do with Turkey Creek. Are you listening to me, Tommy?” Shaw added.

    “I’m listening, but we got three bridges already across Turkey Creek. This is the last wooden bridge across Turkey Creek and the absolute last time we are going to have the money to replace it because it is off road money,” Vaughn explained.

The Engineering

    Willis’ engineer, Grubb, provided details about the project, but not before Shaw had stormed out arguing that it was no sense in spending $500,000 to fix a community road when $500 worth of bridge runners would fix it for the next 20 years.

    “You know I am right,” Shaw said, before adding, “    “See you in federal court.”

    “I know your neighbors are really going to appreciate this,” Vaughn responded.

    Grubb told supervisors an environmental study and drainage assessment had been conducted on the project, adding the creek drains over 40 square miles.

    “It is a massive drainage area,” Grubb explained.

    “That is the reason why it goes from an 86 foot bridge to a 182 foot bridge,” Grubb continued.

    “Right now (water) does go over the road,” Grubb said, explaining the longer, elevated bridge would alleviate this problem.

    “Don’t just rely on me because I designed it. I send it to state aid and another engineer checks it and then another engineer checks it,” Grubb explained. “It is not just relying on me.”

    “This has been in the works a long time. Like we said L.S.B.P. is not easy to come by,” Vaughn explained. referring to the Local System Bridge Program funded through the state.

    Vaughn explained he had swapped money from another state funding source, State Aid, with another county to obtain enough L.S.B.P. money to complete the bridge project.

    Vaughn has already expended money for initial engineering and surveying work. His bridge fund will be reimbursed for much of this expense, if the bridge is constructed.

    Guy Dale Shaw is one of three landowners who the county is working with to obtain needed right-of-way for the project. In addition to Shaw’s property, which is around 1.5  acres, Vaughn said the county would also need property from Eugene Shaw, who would not accept payment for his property.

    “He said, naw, those people need that bridge,” Vaughn said. The county will pay a third landowner, Jimmy Williams, who has property affected by the project. Williams has a small amount of timber on the property, Vaughn explained.

    Grubb also told supervisors that replacing the wood cap would not fix the bridge.

    “We got a 6,000 pound weight limit, just enough for the mail carrier to go across. I am scared of it,” Vaughn continued. “We certainly don’t want to go to court over this thing. Right now, the ball is in Guy Dale’s court. We will just have to wait and see.”    

    The bridge is one of seven wooden bridges remaining in the county according to Grubb.

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