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Elizabethton City Council accepts state help on two new bridges, prohibits open burning

John Thompson • Oct 10, 2019 at 10:35 PM

ELIZABETHTON _ Problems with open burning in Elizabethton and the replacement of two old bridges in poor condition topped the list of actions considered by the City Council on Thursday night.

The two bridges are the Southside Street bridge where it crosses over Gap Creek, and the Reeser Road bridge across Buffalo Creek. On Thursday night the council voted to allow both bridges to be replaced with new one to be constructed under the state’s IMPROVE Act of 2017 and the High Priority Bridge Replacement Program.

Street and Sanitation Director Danny Hilbert said there was lots of good news with TDOT’s decision to place both bridges under the program. He said it means the state will fund 100% of the costs of the construction of the bridges. The city might have to pay upfront for additional real estate the bridges might need, but Hilbert said the city would be reimbursed. It also means a much quicker construction pace. Under normal rules, a bridge project could take three to six years from start to finish.

The Southside bridge was closed on Monday after a TDOT inspector found the bridge built in 1939 to be in poor condition. The Reeser Road bridge was build in 1960. Because it is the only bridge providing access to a neighborhood, the old bridge will have to be left standing and open to traffic while the new bridge is built.

In an attempt to keep the Elizabethton Fire Department from being used by neighbors against fellow neighbors, the council voted unanimously to prohibit open burning in the city limits. Recreational burning, such as fire pits and 2-foot-by-3-foot weenie roasts would be permitted. Commercial burning by wood products companies would also be permitted.

Elizabethton Fire Marshal Andy Hardin told the council that past city fire codes had contained statements that if smoke from an open burn was deemed objectionable the fire department was obligated to extinguish the fire.

The current fire code removed this wording and states there is no way to measure or determine levels of smoke and when it is objectionable. Hardin said the smoke complaints are now treated as civil matters to be handled between the neighbors and the fire department has no authority to make a judgment.

Hardin said the fire department was being brought into disputes between neighbors. The department brought the matter to the council, seeking its guidance on the matter and provided a suggested revision to the fire code that would prohibit most open burning.

City Manager Daniel Estes said open burning is primarily intended for natural material, such as cleared brush, but city’s Sanitation Department will haul that away for residents and if the brush is cleared by a private contractor, the contract should include a provision for the contractors to remove the cleared brush.

In other matters, the council approved the bid by Johnson Controls Fire Prevention to install a fire sprinkler system in the Bonnie Kate Theater in two stages for a total of $75,094.

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