Lee County helps families stranded after bridge collapse

LEE COUNTY, AL (WTVM) -  It's been a week since homeowners were left stranded after a bridge collapsed in Lee County.

The Lee Road 687 bridge sits on private property, therefore it is against Alabama law for the county to step in and rebuild it. The fix is up to the property owner. In the meantime, city and county officials say they are doing all they legally can.

"We've been working around the clock since this started," said Smiths Station Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Daniel Sexton.

Officials from Lee County and Smiths Station said since the bridge on Lee Road 687 collapsed, they've offered homeowners help in evacuation and sheltering assistance from the Red Cross. Lee County EMA officials said they had a plan in place before the collapse and have continued to adapt and execute the plan as days have gone on.

"Knocked on every door and contacted every citizen to offer them the same thing we always offer citizens that are impacted by an event such as this,' said  Kathy Carson, Lee County EMA director.

A waterway is what some of the homeowners affected have been using to get to accessible roads.

Emergency crews in Lee County also said they've got boats from the Montgomery Police Department and Beulah Fire Department ready to go if needed.

The City of Smiths Station let fire and rescue borrow equipment as well.

Even in a state of emergency, officials said it is against Alabama law for them to step in on private property to repair instances like this bridge. It's up to the property owner to fix.

"I have made contact with the landowner and he is making strides to get this fixed," said Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland.

Richard Lowther, the owner of the property, said he is working on an alternative route and is waiting on an adjacent property owner to give him permission to make a way out for people around the bridge leading out to Lee Road 319.

"It is a private bridge. It is not a publicly owned infrastructure bridge. If it was, we would be all over it,  but we will still help in any way possible if they contact us. That's what we are dedicated to," said Carson.

A timeline for the bridge fix hasn't been set, but city and county officials said they will continue to do what they can to help homeowners while the property owner works to make that alternate route.

See a timeline below of the steps taken by the property owner since the bridge collapse:

Wednesday, May 23
Contacted engineers used in the past and arranged for a priority assessment of the site
Got initial opinion from engineers that the structure was compromised.
Found a 40-foot bridge ready to deliver, but would need twice that much span.
Discussed an alternate route around the creek that had been used by one resident for hunting
Talked with Lee County EMA to find that they could not help except for 911 evacuation

Thursday, May 24

  • Worked with engineer on a design to add a 10x10 foot square concrete culvert to each end of the 40-foot span
  • Issue with this was a minimum of 30 days DOT curing time before concrete could be used.
  • Looked closer at the alternate land route

Friday, May 25  

  • Began discussions with three contractors that could do work on the bridge
  • Engineer found a source of 12' diameter round culverts from Birmingham n stock
  • Established that ADEM, Georgia  Power, and Corps of Engineers were not expected to be much problem

Saturday, Sunday,  Monday - No one available

Tuesday, May 29

  • Engineers on site and later put together drawings for improvement of temporary road
  • Verified that existing bridge could not be used
  • Determined that the 12-inch culverts would not work due to depth and soil in creek bed
  • Talked with grading contractor and got estimate for work and 70 loads of gravel material
  • Met with city mayor at site and gave him all information available so he was updated
  • Sent drawings to improve land route in/out to adjacent property owner for permission

Wednesday, May 30

  • Heard that LC-EMA told a resident some material might be donated so called and left voicemail
  • Email from neighbor that he should have a decision on the temporary road this afternoon

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