ELIZABETHTON — The Highway Committee of the Carter County Commission had to make a Solomonic decision Monday morning and the members appeared to have succeeded.
The first item on the agenda for the meeting was what name to recommend for the new bridge over the Watauga River in the Siam community. The names of two distinguished and deceased members of the community had been suggested. One potential honoree was Bill Allen, who had operated a dairy farm on both sides of the river and had seen three bridges erected at the spot during his long lifetime. Allen had also contributed some of his land for the approaches to the bridge to prevent the sharp, 90-degree turns that contributed to a crash into the river that killed three members of a family.
The other possible honoree was John Curtis, who was the driving force toward building the Wilbur Dam across the Watauga River 100 years ago. The dam now holds the title as the oldest dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority holdings. Curtis was also instrumental in developing the first telephone company in Elizabethton.
Delegations of several family members from each family attended the meeting. Several of the family members spoke of the many contributions of the family to Carter County and Elizabethton.
Acting Chairman Joel Street had tried to work out a compromise in which both men could be honored by having another unnamed bridge bear the name of one of the men. He had tried to get a bridge across Wilbur Lake that is part of the access road to Watauga Dam as the other bridge. When that bridge was unavailable, he suggested the unnamed bridge over the Doe River on U.S. Highway 19E near the intersection with Siam Road. He said that bridge was inside the city of Elizabethton and he was not aware of how to get approval.
Rather than delay the naming, committee member Sonja Culler suggested naming the Siam Bridge in honor of both men. Highway Department Supervisor Slim Miller said that has been done before and said in Peters Hollow there is a bridge that is named after a Peters man on one side and after a Hardin man on the other.
The committee liked that idea and asked the family members. They were agreeable to the idea. The committee felt that since Allen’s home was on the south bank, the southern side of the bridge should bear his name while the north side should honor Curtis.
The committee had less difficulty in naming the bridge on Swimming Pool Road over Laurel Fork Creek after Robert Rainbolt.
The committee’s recommendations will now the sent to the County Commission next Tuesday.
The committee also heard an impassioned plea from Judge Ben Allen Road resident Phyllis Hodge not to widen the road. She said residents of the community were afraid that a rock quarry and sand mine would begin operations once again and threaten the safety of the neighborhood and damage the environment.
Another resident who lives further up the road said he signed the community petition, but had second thoughts. Jack Buckles said he and 16 other families live on a very dangerous and narrow section of the road. Buckles said it was also certain the quarry would one day reopen because the mining company, USA Aggregates, has continued to pay fees that maintain their rights to the property.
The committee said there are no plans to widen the road. The committee did agree to recommend the speed limit on Judge Ben Allen Road be reduced to 25 mph.
Committee member Charles Von Cannon spoke out against reopening the quarry and sand mine. He said he was approached about the project nine years ago and was told it would provide six jobs.
He said the gain of six jobs was “not worth scarring Holston Mountain any more than it is. I admit you have to have jobs, but I am totally against this.”