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Commissioner Hearn defends West Bypass decision

A source of confusion and consternation for opponents of the West Fayetteville Bypass has been over how, when and why the Fayette County Commission decided to proceed with the project instead of the East Fayetteville Bypass.

At the end of the May 23 commission meeting, Commissioner Lee Hearn explained the process, referring to a discussion the commission had at a January 2009 retreat, the same month he took office.

The consensus of the board at that meeting, “based on the engineering and concept work, was to move forward with the West Fayetteville Bypass and not to move forward, at that time, with the East Fayetteville Bypass,” Hearn said. “... The consensus of the group was that more folks were going to get to use the West Fayetteville Bypass at that time than the East Fayetteville Bypass.”

During his comments, Hearn explained that he is unaware of how the commission handled the prioritization of the bypass projects between 2007, when he left employment with the county, and January 2009, when he took office.

The commission had awarded at least one bid for work on the West Bypass in 2008 before Hearn came on the board.

Critics of the West Bypass have accused the commission of acting in secret to go ahead with that project instead of the East Bypass, but Hearn said it’s not true.

“There were no backroom deals, there was nothing inappropriate done in terms of the planning,” Hearn said.

The commission did not abandon the East Bypass at the January 2009 meeting, but it was put on hold, Hearn said. He added that he liked both projects.

Hearn’s insight also is colored by several years experience as the county’s public works director, as he served in that position until taking a similar job in Henry County in 2007.

Hearn was elected to the Fayette County Commission in 2008 and took office in January 2009.

Critics of the West Bypass have complained there is no county documentation of the board making this decision. But an article about the discussion was published in The Citizen Jan. 28, 2009.

The article highlighted the concern of county staff that there may not be enough money to complete both bypass projects due to questions about $7 million in state funding needed for the East Bypass. There were also questions about whether the county’s estimated budget for the East Bypass was too small.

Critics of the West Bypass have pointed repeatedly to the minutes of a 2003 meeting of all Fayette governments in which the consensus was that the East Fayetteville Bypass should be the county’s top priority transportation project.

After explaining the rationale behind the commission’s decisions on the bypass priorities, Hearn apologized to residents whose land is “negatively impacted” by the West Bypass.

“I truly wish that we could build this road, and every other road improvement project, without negatively impacting somebody’s property,” Hearn said.

Hearn recalled that as a teenager, a family farm in south Fulton had some property taken for use as a city lake.

“As a teenager, I was devastated. But my dad said at that time that our old farm was more valuable for providing water for the city of Palmetto for years to come than it was for our family’s use as a farm,” Hearn recalled.

“My dad was able to look at the bigger picture, and that’s something I challenge each of you to look at,” Hearn said.

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