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Marengo County Commission hears updates on roadway project, broadband funding

The Marengo County Commission heard several public comments from residents at the August 10 meeting including Craig Sanford with the CDBG Roadway Project and Diane Brooker with Alabama Power.

Sanford approached the commission to give an update on the CDBG road project. He said the project is currently in the right-of-way stage of the project and the design part of the project is currently at 90-95 percent complete stage. He said that is the range they needed to get to make sure that the right-of-way they are acquiring is what they need to get.

Sanford said they are getting into the right-of-way acquisition stage that takes quite some time to complete. He said there are a total of 69 properties that have to be acquired and 49 of the 69 notices of intent have been sent out. The other 20 notices have not been sent out yet due to incomplete information from all residents. Sanford said that all property owners should have their notices of intent by August 27.

Diane Brooker represented Alabama Power at the commission meeting and spoke about getting broadband connection to Thomaston through Linden. Brooker said that after the pandemic hit last year, she wanted to find a way to solve the broadband issue in the Black Belt area.

She said she was tasked by the Sumter County commission to find a way to get Fiber to the Home (FTTH) throughout the county. During that process, the federal government came up with the NTIA grant (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) that furthers the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in America, laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth; improved education, public safety, and health care; and the advancement of other national priorities. The City of Linden and the Town of Thomaston were the only areas eligible for the NTIA grant. To qualify for the grant, areas must be considered unserved or underserved, or have a high poverty level. The grant will allow the broadband connection to stretch from Linden, which already has lines laid, into Thomaston.

Audrey Haskins with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives provided the commission with a report on farmers in the area and across the country. The Rural Training and Research Center is 1100ac of farm and forestry real estate in Sumter County. The site has a fenced in garden for growing vegetables, a hoop house, a dormitory that sleeps 80 people, and an auditorium with a commercial grade kitchen.

Last year during the height of the pandemic, the Federation was called on to support the USDA in their food box distribution. The FSC provided field peas, okra and greens that were shipped across the country to support local food pantries and to bring relief to thousands of food-challenged Americans.

The FSC processed more than 200 Coronavirus Food Awareness Program (CFAP) applications across the Black Belt region and brough money directly to farmers, livestock owners, and landowners totaling at $150,000.

The last speaker for public comments was Dr. Claudette Poole of UAB. Poole is a pediatrician at UAB and specializes in infectious diseases. She has been working with funding from the CDC on a project studies soil transmitted helminths (STH) which are intestinal worms such as hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm. STH’s are transmitted through sewage-contaminated soil and the infections can lead to chronic poor health like anemia and nutritional deficiencies.

“We know historically that these were very common throughout the southeast. People were still being treated and tested for them up until the late 1990s,” said Poole. “Then over the last two decades they’ve essentially disappeared. It’s not because we have data to say that they no longer occur, it’s just that physicians stopped looking for them and no one is being treated for them.”

Poole said the concern is that parts of rural Alabama still have conditions that can support these infections. The main cause of infections is due to failing/inadequate sanitation systems throughout the area. She said that is why she and her team have been tasked with studying the Black Belt area. Symptoms of STH include skin rash, cough/wheeze, and abdominal complaints.

Phase one of the project is committed to screening 900 children ages 2-18 years from Wilcox, Lowndes, and Perry counties. Total enrollment at the moment is 555 participants with 349 in Wilcox, 101 in Lowndes, and 105 in Perry.

Phase two of the project is to partner with local healthcare providers throughout west central Alabama to screen children and adults.

“Part of our role is to get the healthcare community on board to look at the issue. We want to identify homeowners who do have some functioning systems, and see if there is a way to connect them with funding or grant opportunities to fix the problem.”

Items approved by the Commission

Approved a resolution endorsing UWA to pursue Broadband funding

Approved 2022 Rebuild Alabama County Transportation Plan

The Marengo County Commission meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 9 a.m.

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