Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines talks during discussion of the multimodal center Tuesday during the Albany City Commission meeting.
ALBANY, Ga. — Despite some reservations, the Albany City Commission voted 4-2 to go through with an archaeological study of a proposed multimodal site in downtown Albany.
The commission voted 4-2 to conduct the study. Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Commissioner Christopher Pike opposed the motion. Commissioner Bob Langstaff was absent from the meeting.
Last month, the commission put the brakes on the study for the $10 million transit center, which would be paid for with the help of $7 million in state and federal funding, including stimulus funds.
Some commissioners again expressed reservations Tuesday over whether the current proposed site is the best for the center. Pike, the elected representative of much of downtown, renewed his position that the commission shouldn’t move forward with something its constituency does not believe in.
“Our bosses, the people of Albany, are telling us that they don’t want this center to go here,” Pike said. “Since I was put here to represent their interests and do their will, I can’t vote to support it.”
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell said he was uncomfortable with the way city staff changed the scope of the project by adding a one-tier parking deck to the plans of the project after commissioners had approved it and that, as long as that parking deck was part of the project, he would vote against it.
“It’s not necessarily about what the people want,” Postell said in response to Pike’s statement. “I get calls from people all the time upset about this or wanting me to do that, but they don’t understand it’s not feasible. They didn’t elect us to do what they want. They elected us to be intelligent about the issues and vote on their behalf.
“Now I have a problem with us voting one thing and staff coming in and changing it afterwards. We make the decisions, and staff carries it out. They don’t make decisions for us.”
City Manager James Taylor and Assistant City Manager Wes Smith told commissioners the Federal Transit Administration, the gatekeeper of federal funding for the project, said the funding wasn’t site specific but that city staff and commissioners would have to justify changing sites this late in the game or risk losing $3.1 million in stimulus funds.
“It’s not likely that they would approve a site change unless it was something that would speed up the process,” Smith said. “Now the other monies ... if you want us to take the time and do another feasibility study out-of-pocket and look at other alternatives, we can certainly do that, but the ARRA (Stimulus) funds are almost certainly gone at that point.”
If the $3.1 million were stripped from the project, the transfer station would still be built, but the bells and whistles — a large waiting area, offices, a restaurant, retail and energy-saving components — as well as the components for Greyhound bus service, would be stripped out.
Many on the commission said Tuesday they believe the city does need a new bus transfer station but find themselves struggling with the site location even as a deadline to spend the stimulus money looms.
Should the commission attempt to change sites, staff say that FTA will demand that they justify the decision and make their case that a new site is somehow better than the proposed site.
Pointing to a very similar situation in Savannah where a proposed transportation center site was abandoned after it was found to have “significant impact on a historical neighborhood,” Smith said the archaeological study may give the commission the evidence it needs to justify changing sites.
“One may note that if you go ahead with this survey, you may end up with the same finding that they had, and then your options open up quite dramatically,” Smith said.
When commissioners started to point the finger in the direction of city staff for continuing work on the site, Taylor reminded them that the historical work had been done on the site and been approved by state and federal authorities.
“Let me be clear, the historic piece has already been done. You’ve already gotten a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact). The only issue that remains is whether there is significant archaeological impact at this site. If this site is clearly off the table, then we don’t need to proceed with it and say why it’s off the table, and I’m OK with that. Don’t put staff on the block for this,” Taylor said. “We have to follow the procedures we’re given for the funds. If we want to do it in-house, independent of the (federal) funds, then we can pick any site the commission wants to pick. I’m OK with that, too. We just need to know what the directions are.
“If you are certain that that site is off the table, don’t spend the money on the archaeological dig. It won’t do you any good. If you think that site is still on the table, than the archaeological piece makes sense.”
The city is leasing its current transfer station on Oglethorpe Boulevard for roughly $82,000. It is reimbursed for that amount by the FTA, but the longer the city lingers on building its own station, the more likely it is that the feds will pull the plug on that funding.