MARTIN - Less than three weeks after the city hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for phase one of the Martin redevelopment project, residents and business owners brought their concerns to the table - and were told to take them elsewhere.
Several residents and business owners, represented by attorney Frank Heaberlin, addressed the city council Tuesday night with concerns for their safety, health and the overall impact the project will have on their businesses and homes.
Heaberlin said that residents have been given "numerous stories" about the relocation plans and were there Tuesday to get a rundown on what will really happen during the construction.
"To think of all the years it took Martin to get to this point and and in a few short months, it'll run us all out of Martin, it's not what our ancestors wanted ... You people represent us. You should have our intentions at heart, not the government, not the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers," business owner Pete Grigsby Jr. said.
Grigsby, on behalf of those in attendance, requested that the city and the Corps of Engineers consider alternate routes for hauling dirt through the city, pointing out that continuous hauling would "destroy" city businesses, cause health problems and could raise safety concerns for local residents.
When prompted by Grigsby's request, Mayor Thomasine Robinson said the plans were not "definite," but John P. Justice Jr., Corps of Engineers project manager, pointed out that the plans that have been approved for funding through the federal government included the removal of dirt through city limits.
Bush and Burchett contractors will haul dirt and debris taken from Fire Station Hill through Main Street and the debris will be "stockpiled" at Mayo Hollow, Justice explained.
Giovanni's owner John Perry, like many business owners in the town, has been flooded twice in recent years. He says he doesn't oppose the project, but he doesn't want to sacrifice his business for the sake of progress either.
"When you start mixing mud and food, you do have a problem," Perry said after the meeting. "Who the hell wants to stop and eat in a mud hole?"
Rodney Hutchinson, who lives near Our Lady of the Way Hospital, asked the council how much revenue the city would lose if the businesses were forced to close prior to their relocation.
"There's not that much of a loss down there, Rodney," Mayor Robinson replied.
Hutchinson also asked who would compensate residents for the additional water usage it would take to keep their homes clean over the duration of the project.
Robinson laughed, giving no response, other than to say she knew what he was talking about.
Robinson seemed reluctant, at first, to allow the Corps to answer questions asked by the residents, telling them, instead, to take their concerns to the Corps office, which is open every second and fourth Tuesday between 1 and 6 p.m.
Her diversion, however, came to a head when Dale McKinney, of radio station WMDJ, said that citizens have the right to hear a response from the Corps.
Joe Burchett, on behalf of the contractors, said his "tentative" plans were to haul through the city, but he shared his willingness to "work with" area residents and their concerns. The company is "tentatively" looking to begin preparatory work the week after Labor Day, he said.
Justice said the Corps would also consider alternate routes, but he pointed out that doing so could cause some problems.
"Our initial studies started 4 to 6 years ago," Justice said. "We've held numerous public meetings and opportunities for the community to voice their concerns. I will tell you that we looked at 5 to 6 different options as far as moving the material ...
The best overall, most economic, most effective way of hauling is to bring it through town to Mayo Hollow."
Changing those plans, Justice said, would call for a reevaluation of the project, which would necessitate the completion of another approval process and require additional documentation and impact studies.
The Corps will begin demolition of three houses next week, Justice said, noting that he and community planner Gus Drum are focusing their attention on the second and third phases of the project.
Currently, Justice is working to "refine" a plan to determine what businesses will relocate to Fire Station Hill, which will be leveled to raise the town. He's also working with the Design Review Board, in charge of regulating what businesses and homes relocate in the city, and the Big Sandy Area Development District, which will assist homeowners and commercial establishments with funding to relocate.
Residents and business owners gathered in the parking lot for several minutes after they left the meeting.
They will be visiting the Corps office for answers to their questions, Heaberlin said.