DIAMONDHEAD -- A bridge replacement will close a popular roadway in Diamondhead, and about 20 residents and business owners met with Hancock County supervisors Monday night to voice concerns.
At Diamondhead City Hall, supervisors Blaine LaFontaine (District 2) and Darrin "Bo" Ladner (District 5) listened to concerns over the closing of the Kapalama Bridge, and by association Kapalama Drive.
The bridge is outdated and a threat to public safety, according to a Board of Supervisors handout at the meeting.
LaFontaine presented a timetable that showed deterioration reports and recent repairs to the bridge. He suggested that if a September 2016 report came back showing further deterioration, the bridge may be closed by the state.
In 2011, the county financed repairs that included the bracing of several pilings to keep the bridge open. A September 2015 inspection showed further deterioration with rotting in other pilings and walls under the bridge.
LaFontaine said that the bridge is set to get state aid, but that could be a two-year process. Considering the rapid deterioration, supervisors decided to use county funds to address the public safety issue this fiscal year.
Those in attendance did not disagree that the bridge needed to be repaired. Their concerns had to do primarily with the closing of Kapalama Drive and the resulting impact on business and safety issues from the closing of one of the city's main arteries.
"I'm a business owner, but I'm also a resident with children," said Susan Diamond, owner of Uncle Joe's Pizza and Wings just east of the bridge. "I am really concerned about just one way in and out. They're taking away literally half of our emergency plan. If there's a severe weather event, we have no way out.
Diamond said more research should be done.
"I don't think that the proper research has been done, and we don't have enough information. I am not willing to say, 'Yes, it needs to be done.' There are ways around it. I don't think we've found it yet."
LaFontaine said the town hall was meant to be informative and keep the lines of communication open with residents and business owners.
"That way we can get the business owners, the investors in one room to see the facts laid out, and also to allow them to understand the thought process, but also to give us some input on some direction that we can do to try to help them erase some of the concerns and fears."
One suggestion from residents was to build a bypass so that traffic would continue during construction. LaFontaine said that a bypass would be too costly and that it would also take time time to acquire property, which would interfere with getting the bridge built in the proposed timeframe.
The construction of the 60-foot bridge is set to begin as early as June 1. Bids are due May 2. A contract will be awarded May 16.
Construction costs are estimated at $400,000.
With a 30-45 construction schedule, the bridge could be completed as early as June 30. LaFontaine said supervisors are investigating the offering of incentives to ensure completion goals are met.
LaFontaine and Ladner agreed to meet again with residents and business owners in the next two weeks to make sure that they are kept abreast of any new developments.