While a St. Charles County official has scheduled a public meeting on the issue, it’s unlikely to change the town of Augusta’s decision last weekend to close a portion of the Augusta Bottom Road over liability issues.
The town’s attorney said the board had no choice but to close the Augusta Parkway section of the bottom road after being notified that its new insurance carrier would not provide coverage for the parkway.
The town’s previous insurance company terminated coverage, effective Sunday, Aug. 25, after paying out an undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit filed in the death of a 16-year-old Washington girl in 2010.
Augusta’s legal counsel, Mark Piontek, said the town was able to obtain new liability insurance coverage through a different company, but that firm won’t cover the parkway, which is several miles outside the town’s corporate limits.
“Without insurance, they (board members) didn’t feel they had any choice but to close the parkway,” Piontek told The Missourian.
The 1.9-mile bottom road, which sits atop a levee, extends from Highway 47 to Augusta. The major part of the road, including the Augusta Parkway, is in Warren County with a short section in St. Charles County.
“The town can’t accept the risk of not having liability insurance coverage for the parkway and at the same time leave the parkway accessible to vehicular traffic,” Bob Hofer, Augusta board chairman, said in a letter to Warren and St. Charles County officials.
“The town does not have any authority to regulate traffic or to close roads outside of its corporate limits and is therefore reliant on your assistance to close the ABR as requested,” Hofer stated in his letter.
Warren County officials say they will assist Augusta with closure of the parkway, but St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil does not support the closure, saying that the county spent $1 million to $2 million several years ago improving their section of the roadway.
St. Charles County has called a public meeting Sept. 5 at the town’s request that the county close its part of the road east of the parkway. The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at Augusta Elementary School.
Warren County Presiding Commissioner Arden Engelage has argued that the county is not responsible for maintaining the Augusta Parkway.
“The road was washed out in 1993, and Augusta built it again with a grant,” said Engelage. “Once you take over a road it becomes your responsibility. The road is not even in the same location as it was before. It’s been moved.”
Engelage, however, said Warren County will cooperate with Augusta.
“We were asked by the town of Augusta to help them close the road and we are going to help them do that,” he told The Missourian.
“We try to be good neighbors,” Engelage said. “But we have to watch out for our landowners. We didn’t create this problem.”
Even with barricades and road closed signs placed at each end of the parkway, some motorists are driving around the barriers.
Warren County commissioners have talked about putting up concrete barriers, but they have not done so yet.
The county has posted road closed signs at the Highway 47 intersection and may ask the sheriff’s office to patrol the area and to issue tickets to motorists who ignore the signs and barriers. That would depend on if motorists keep going around the barricades, The Missourian was told.
At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Engelage and Hubie Kluesner, southern district commissioner, said they were going to contact farmers whose land straddles the bottom road to get their input on how the road closure will impact driving their machinery and trucks from field to field. One option discussed was to issue stickers to place on their equipment allowing them access to the road.
In June, Augusta reached a confidential settlement with the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by David Neier and Dawn Tucker, parents of Ella Neier, 16, Washington.
Ella Neier died Oct. 22, 2010, when the car she was driving ran off a section in the Augusta Parkway and crashed into a lake along the road.
The terms of the settlement currently are sealed as the case against other defendants proceeds.
Two other entities, Three Creeks Village and Franklin County, were dismissed from the lawsuit in February, leaving only the city of Washington and Warren and St. Charles counties as defendants.
The plaintiffs allege that the defendants failed to properly maintain and improve the roadway, leading to the fatal crash.
Washington city officials have spearheaded efforts for years to find a way to rebuild the road or construct a new road off the levee. However, the lack of funding and no support from Warren County officials have stymied those efforts.