SPRINGFIELD -- The Effingham County Board of Commissioners approved a motion Tuesday night that it hopes will smooth damaged roads and allay safety concerns.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners OK'd a $1.42 million measure to repair 47.52 miles of roads damaged by a recent snowstorm. They also approved spending $7,175 for 20 soil/water tests to make sure the fixes don't harm the environment.
Most of the county's coal ash roads sustained signifcant damage in the wake of a Jan. 3 snowstorm. Coal ash is the waste that is left after coal is burned.
The county has received coal ash for the roads from Georgia-Pacific at no cost for many years, absolving the company of any liability if environmental problems develop.
Several residents who live on ash roads voiced worries about breathing coal ash particles and their impact on nearby water sources.
Commissioner Vera Jones shared their concerns.
"If somebody's going to give you something free, and they repeatedly have to be held harmless to give you something free, you might want to take a strong look at that," she said. "With that said, it was tested and we are going to test it again."
Commission Chairman Wesley Corbitt countered that Georgia-Pacific is a good corporate citizen and will likely help the county if problems emerge. Jones agreed with his assessment.
Simona Perry of Ogeechee Riverkeeper expressed concerns about moving coal ash around and volunteered to help with environmental testing.
"While you are fixing it, you also want to be sure you are not creating a greater problem," Perry said.
Before the vote, Jones said safety, not cost, was at the forefront of the commission's decision-making process.
"We're serious about it and we want to do the right thing," she said.
Effingham County will purchase approximately $125,000 worth of equipment and add a work crew that will cost $185 annually to make road repairs. Materials are expected to cost $23.000 per mile.
The work is likely to start in a couple of weeks.
"Having that equipment in house will help us keep working everyday on it," Jones said.
Corbitt said he hopes the county will be able to do away with ash roads as it continues to grow.