About 170 people crowded into the Augusta Elementary School gymnasium Thursday, Sept. 5, and the majority were there to express opposition to the closing of Augusta Bottom Road.
If the meeting had a theme, it was that Augusta Bottom Road is very important to the residents of Augusta.
The road was “unofficially” closed last month by the town of Augusta after its new insurance carrier refused to provide liability coverage unless the town shut down the section of the road where a 16-year-old Washington girl was killed in a car crash in 2010.
Thursday’s open meeting, hosted by St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, was held to determine whether St. Charles County should move forward with closing the road and to allow residents to air their grievances.
Most of those grievances were aimed directly at the Warren County commissioners, who did not attend. Concerns also were voiced about Warren County’s refusal to accept ownership and maintenance of the road.
Warren County Presiding Commissioner Arden Engelage on Tuesday said the commissioners did not feel it would be to anyone’s advantage to attend the meeting.
“We talked to the landowners Thursday before the meeting,” he said.
Bob Hofer, Augusta town board chairman, said he hoped the road closing would be a temporary measure, “just until we can find a solution to this deadlock.”
Augusta City Attorney Mark Piontek said the road had to be closed until it is upgraded in order for the town to retain liability insurance.
“You wouldn’t drive your car without liability insurance and take the risk, would you?” he said.
Piontek said if another accident occurs on the road and the town is sued it might as well declare bankruptcy.
The cost of upgrading the Augusta Parkway section of the road is estimated to be about $80,000, according to Piontek.
“Ownership of the road is not the issue,” he said. “We don’t have the funds (to fix the road).” He added that by state law the town of Augusta can spend no more than 10 percent of its general revenue annually on roads outside its corporate limits. That’s about $15,000 a year.
The problem, according to Ehlmann, is that the people most interested in the road cannot do anything about it. He referred to a state law that prohibits counties from spending money in another county.
Warren County commissioners have repeatedly said that the Augusta Parkway section belongs to Augusta. That stretch was washed out by the 1993 Missouri River flood and later rebuilt with a disaster assistance grant that Augusta applied for.
Because Augusta received the grant, Warren County officials contend the town is responsible for maintaining that section.
Piontek confirmed the confusion over the road’s ownership.
“That is open to debate,” he said. “However there is a state law which says that because Augusta spent money fixing the road the town had liability. Liability doesn’t only follow ownership.”
Many at the meeting suggested several solutions, like annexation of the road by St. Charles County, litigation, or closing down roads running from St. Charles County to Warren County that only Warren County residents use, like Lake Sherwood Road.
“I doubt we’d have the votes for that,” said Brazil.
As for annexing the land around Augusta Parkway, Piontek said the area had been incorporated as a town, Three Creeks Village, therefore it could not be annexed without consent of the residents.
Brazil said the best remedy for the situation is to convince Warren County to be a “good neighbor.”
“Right now we need them (the Warren County commissioners),” he said. “There may be a day when they need us.”
Brazil concluded the evening by saying that he would not sponsor a bill for St. Charles County to close the road. “Bottom line, the road is in Warren County. They should fix it,” he said.
“We can’t put pressure on Warren County until we find a pressure point, until we find something they need from St. Charles County,” Ehlmann stated.