The last paragraph in an article covering the July meeting of the Claiborne County Commission got county road superintendent Ronnie Pittman a bit hot under the collar, as he spent a good deal of time during the August meeting detailing the work done by his department.
During his presentation, Pittman returned a few times to the article, saying the Claiborne Progress had published an ‘untruth.’
The paragraph in question included a paraphrasing of what county commissioner Bill Keck had said. As written, the paragraph stated Keck as the one being paraphrased — something Pittman did not understand.
The controversy centered around the statement made by Keck during the July meeting, in which he said that District 2 had not been ‘long arm’ bush hogged in five years.
Pittman said during the most recent meeting that he wanted the matter “cleaned up and on the record.”
“So, this ‘that it’s never been bush hogged’ – that is incorrect,” said Pittman.
“Wait a minute. I’m the one that brought it up,” said Keck, who was then interrupted by Pittman.
“I’m not in a debate tonight, Mr. Keck. This county has been bush hogged now, long armed and short armed … many is on record here – throughout this whole county,” said Pittman.
The discussion heated up at this point, with one talking over the other. Keck did manage to reiterate that there had been no long arm bush hogging since the first month of the previous road superintendent’s second term in office.
“We’re not here to debate tonight. The election’s already been run,” responded Pittman.
Keck was one of Pittman’s opponents in the last election.
Despite the verbal tussle between the two men, Pittman relayed some information about the work his department is accomplishing.
He said that in order to keep everyone ‘moving,’ both paving and tar & chipping would continue from April to November.
“You can always maintain a gravel road. But, when you get into these tar & chip roads, and these lesser-quality roads…they’re the ones that’s not had the proper drainage done. And, what has happened is, they are fractured up, they’re freezing and thawing, and patching is no longer going to take care of that.
“In your environmental law book, they require you to use this environmentally-friendly oil, which is nothing but a lie, if you want to be plain. What it is, it’s got to be water soluble. It’s not the oil we used to use. It’s got half-life in it. It’s like painting your house with water-based paint. So, when water runs up and down the road – next thing you know, it’s eating away at it. So, it makes you buy more ‘product,’ over time,” said Pittman.
He said the county has about 832.5 miles of roadway within its borders. The road department is responsible for maintaining 324.6 miles of paved roadways with striping included, 84 miles of paved only and 106 miles of tar & chip roads. There are also 317 miles of gravel roadway inside the county.
Pittman said the combination of the recent Haslam gas taxes and the county road department wheel taxes will allow him to finally “catch up” after “40 years of neglect.”
“It’s going to take time, and there’s an order and concept,” said Pittman.
Primary and secondary roadways will be repaired first, he said, followed by the tar & chip ones.
Subdivision roads will be a harder fix, he said, because they were not initially built ‘to specification.’
Since 2012, Pittman said he had used from $100,000 to $150,000 per year, just to keep traffic ‘moving.’ The necessary preliminary work to better roads, he said, has been done during this time frame.
“You all supported us in the wheel tax. Haslam did his part. And now, you’re looking at about a million dollars a year, once it ramps up, in about three or four years.
“If we leave this wheel tax alone, let it operate, you’ll start to see (improvement). It takes time, but everybody (will get) the effects of this.
“And, it’s going to take people working together. Not coming in here and tearing this thing all apart. We’ve come too far, now, from where we’ve been five years ago. And, we did what we did, with nothing. We’re striping roads. We’re putting guardrails up (that) have never been done,” said Pittman.
Keck asked how many roads have been “done and redone” in the last three to four years – in particular, Shady Lane.
Pittman said it had been cleared twice, due to an erosion problem down the left side of the roadway.
Keck then asked about another road.
“On your mayor’s road, up here. The lower sections of it was done three or four years ago. You went back and put enough coat on another part….,” said Keck.
The road, Pittman said, was done during the same time as Molly Hollow Road – a roadway located inside District 2.
“(It) was done under the first wheel tax done in our district. You know what Molly Hollow looked like? Six-tenths of a mile was devastated – that them people did not deserve to be driving on it.
“Let me ask you this. You tell me why that the fifth district only got about $86,000 and you (the second district) got $1.3 million of that money. Well, won’t you explain that to me,” said Pittman.
Round two of the skirmish between the two men erupted, in which Pittman attempted to again draw the Claiborne Progress into the tussle.
“We come in with all these false allegations in this newspaper. I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know where you’re buying your truth at, but you need to clean it up because, ‘free’ ain’t getting the job done,” said Pittman.
After round two died down, commissioner Billy Johnson asked Pittman whether the remainder of his presentation would be focused on the wheel tax – the actual topic up for discussion.
“Or, is this more angst between you and someone else,” said Johnson.
Pittman asked to be given a moment while he searched for copies of his master road improvements list, which he then distributed.
“All I’m required by law to submit is the paperwork on an annual basis. I’m not playing games with you people. I’m not a politician. I’ve got other intentions in here – is to help Claiborne county come together. I’m sick and tired of the bickering and fussing….I’m your road superintendent. I’m going to do this county right,” said Pittman.
He then read out loud the funds used, in each district, to repair the roads. Out of $6.5 million, district 5, he said, received $86,400 while district 3 was given $183,915 for road repair.
“District 6 got $267,820. District 8 got $465,264. District 1 got $596,973. District 7 got $732,000. District 4 got $1.2 million, plus. District 2 got $1.349 million.
“I would like somebody to explain to me why nobody regulated this money, in the past,” said Pittman.
After a bit more discussion, the topic turned to the county bridges.
“We’re going to utilize every dollar to get your bridges up to where they need to be,” said Pittman.
It takes at least six months, he said, to “set up” a design and complete engineering and aquatic studies, in order to build a bridge.
“There are 82 bridges in this county. The state does an annual inspection of them and you get good, fair, poor and critical –that’s your classification codes. Once that’s done, they grade them.
“At that point it (the bridge) goes critical, they can shut it down and in 30 minutes, your funds are cut off. You will receive no state-aid funds. You will not get a check, if you don’t address that bridge immediately,” said Pittman.
He reminded those present that the county will not see the first influx of funds from the Haslam gas taxes until Sept. 22 or later.
Pittman is expected to bring information, during the September meeting, concerning FEMA funds and state aid monies.
For more information about the county road improvements completed since 2013, refer to the Master Road List published in this issue.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.