Previously: Here are the questions you can ask at Tuesday evening’s meeting about the Mt. Tabor Deforestation and Auto Enrichment Project.
We’ve just received this press release from Transparency for Mt. Tabor. Take note of tonight’s meeting, and best of luck to the insurgents.
City of New Albany Under Fire Amid Accusations of Ignoring INDOT Policies
Contact: Transparency for Mount Tabor – Scott Whalen or Kelly Feiock
New Albany, IN (January 2, 2018) – Another large crowd is expected at the public meeting tonight hosted by the City of New Albany to unveil yet another plan for the Mount Tabor Road Redevelopment Project. The project’s initial goal was to correct erosion problems running along the north side of the road into the creek below. Revisions to the plans will be displayed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany at 7 pm.
In addition to correcting the erosion problems, the original plan in 2013 called for scrapping the current 4-way stop with stop signs and inserting a roundabout into an area that a proper roundabout would not fit. More than 300 residents angrily voiced their opposition to this idea, begging the city to fix the erosion and leave the rest of the road alone.
A few months later Mayor Jeff Gahan reversed his stance, visiting three of the homes on Christmas Eve, which are located on the intersection of Mount Tabor and Klerner Lane, personally telling the residents that his official response to the public hearing and the Categorical Exclusion (CE) was that the intersection would remain the same. It was possible to change to a traffic signal in the future, but it would be in a separate project if or when that happened. He followed up with mailing a letter to all affected residents stating “I recently decided to eliminate the roundabout from the project. The plan is now to retain the 4-way stop.” Gahan continued by saying “This decision was based upon the public comments and concerns received from the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Fast forward three years to June 2016. Residents begin receiving letters notifying them the project was moving forward, appraisers would be visiting homes and acquisition offers to buy land would follow soon after. Yet, when the Right of Way (ROW) Agents presented the offers to residents, they showed plans marked “preliminary.” And when residents asked for a copy of the plans that actually said “Final,” they learned the plans were not yet final. Gossip swirled as neighbors began to speculate that the City of New Albany was going to change the plans again.
Unable to obtain answers from Gahan’s employees, residents turned to INDOT for answers, as INDOT must sign off any federally-funded projects. In December 2016 INDOT confirmed the 4-way stop was now to become a signalized light, and the two lanes of traffic would now insert a left turn lane. Once again residents are furious with Team Gahan. Some had already signed contracts selling portions of their land, believing the atmosphere of a 4-way stop and two lanes of traffic would remain the same. Others, who refused to sign fearing the neighborhood was about to change, have been sued and their land obtained via eminent domain. Approximately 50% of the residents are refusing to give in, and are now going to jury trial against the city.
Resident Scott Whalen kept questioning INDOT officials about policies, and asked shouldn’t residents have seen the final plans before properties were appraised, contracts signed or eminent domain granted? How can damages be calculated when the appraiser doesn’t know the end result? Finally, INDOT agreed that the residents were to be notified of the changes. Residents didn’t just want to know about the changes – they want to know how INDOT signed off on a major change of scope, and not be aware that the residents didn’t know.
Lack of communication has been an ongoing issue between city officials, INDOT and residents. INDOT requires the city mail surveys to residents for a noise analysis – but the surveys were never mailed. INDOT requires any reasonable requests be considered during negotiations – but the ROW agent didn’t tell the city about the requests. The city told INDOT that an increase in traffic warranted the change from a 4-way stop to a traffic signal – but it didn’t tell INDOT that the two traffic analysis it ordered were done when parallel streets were closed and traffic was rerouted though Mount Tabor Road. In fact, a traffic study has never been conducted while all roads are open and no traffic rerouted, so there is no base line as to the average daily amount of cars to travel Mount Tabor Road.
The last straw came when residents received a letter from the city stating trees were to be cut down along Mount Tabor Road, beginning tomorrow, January 3. With so many questions and no answers, the issues have escalated to state officials who will be discussing the project today prior to the public meeting. State Representative Ed Clere plans to speak with INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness with hopes that INDOT will finally become accountable for the project that it approved, yet doesn’t know anything about.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is located at 1752 Scheller Lane, New Albany, IN 47150. The public is encouraged to bring written comments or questions they would like answered and filed on public record with INDOT.