FAIRHOPE — Dirt roads have been a part of rural life in Baldwin County for more than 200 years, but some of the routes are an environmental hazard as material is eroded into streams and …
FAIRHOPE — Dirt roads have been a part of rural life in Baldwin County for more than 200 years, but some of the routes are an environmental hazard as material is eroded into streams and wetlands, county officials said.
The Baldwin County Environmental Advisory Committee is preparing a final draft updating a list of the most environmentally damaging dirt roads in the county. Brett Gaar, committee chairman, said two previous lists were prepared in 1998 and 2010.
He told county commissioners at a recent work session that the number of dirt roads has dropped since the earlier reports were prepared, but some roads are still creating problems.
"The county currently includes 213 named dirt roads that total 170 linear miles," Gaar said. "Compared to 2010, you had 270 linear miles. That's about a 40% decrease over that period, so that's a great step in the right direction. The average county dirt road segment is about one mile in length. One mile of dirt road is about 3.5 acres of exposed dirt that can end up in the rivers and wetlands."
Some of the worst hazards are Holly Creek Road, Holly Grove Road, Truck Trail 17 and Baldwin County 68, also known as River Road, according to the report. Holly Creek Road, Truck Trail 17 and River Road are the only three that have been included on all three lists compiled since 1998, the report said.
Gaar said such roads have been sending material into local waterways for decades.
"The bigger projects like Truck Trail 17 have been on this list since 1998, and it's still a problem," Gaar said. "That in particular jumps out at me as one that it's unbelievable how much material has left that road and ended up in our creeks."
Gaar said the issue is an expense for taxpayers. The material washed out has to be replaced.
"We start by evaluating the Highway Department's maintenance because if they're bringing dirt over and over again and it's not staying there, it's going somewhere, probably going into the wetlands and in the streams," Gaar said.
He said 83 of the county's 213 dirt roads have high maintenance costs due to erosion.
Commission Chairman Charles "Skip" Gruber said the list will help the county prepare plans for upcoming improvements.
"It's just a guide for the Highway Department to take a look at," Gruber said. "If they've got one that they're constantly spending a lot of money on it, that's where they would start looking to see if improvements could be made and this would go along and correlate with what y'all are doing."
Ashley Campbell, county environmental director, said many of the roads on the earlier lists have been removed after Highway Department crews made improvements either by paving the routes or adding gravel.
"If you look at this report, you can see that this has been a success over the 20 years of what they've done to improve water quality and just taking them one at a time to improve them," Campbell said.
County Engineer Joey Nunnally said five roads on the new list are on the county's priority list to acquire rights of way for improvements. He said money to improve two of them is in the current county budget.
Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said the owners of some property along county roads on the list do not want their streets paved. She said some property owners do not want to lose land due to right-of-way expansions, or they are concerned that paving a road could lead to more development in the area.
"Some of them, as much as you want to help them, you can't do a thing because citizens will stand in the way," Underwood said. "'Nobody's going to come down my road.'"
Commissioner Jeb Ball said the report shows the county is continuing to work to improve the environment.
"One of the quality-of-life things here for people who talk to us is the environment, and some people don't think we do enough for that," Ball said. "This report shows that we're working toward a common goal to fix these problems."