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Cole Mountain Road nearly impassible

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Heavy rains have pelted the New River Valley for the last several weeks, resulting in some waterways overflowing their banks and general property damage. Roadways are often greatly affected by water damage and nowhere is this more evident than on Cole Mountain Road in Hiwassee.

Cole Mountain Road branches off Julia Simkins Road with its entrance adjacent to the Hoover Color plant. This gravel road winds its way up the mountain for one mile along a creek known as Specter Branch, which enters directly into the New River.

Sometime in the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 17, a section of Cole Mountain Road less than a half mile from its entrance washed down the very steep embankment to the bottom of the 50-foot ravine. Because much of the roadway and the wire enclosed rock support structures known as gabion baskets have fallen into the ravine below, the width of this roadway has been greatly diminished, barely allowing for one vehicle to pass.

VDOT has since put some orange cones along the edge of this broken stretch of road but judging by its current condition, one wonders exactly how long this road will continue to be viable.

Cole Mountain Road is maintained by the state for a one-mile stretch before it turns into a privately maintained road. The one-mile mark also denotes the beginning of Valhalla Drive, another private road that extends another mile into the woods of Cole Mountain.

Kenneth Pearson lives on Valhalla Drive and can only access his residence from Cole Mountain Road. Eric Saunders, too, has a residence on the private part of Cole Mountain Road, as do members of the Dean family. According to Pearson, there are also several summer homes and cabins on these private roads as well, none of which can be accessed by any other means than by using Cole Mountain Road.

Pearson, who is the newest resident on Cole Mountain, says that a couple of years prior, he had asked the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors to make sure the road was passable.

“One of the supervisors told me on the phone about their lack of manpower, lack of equipment and resources,” said Pearson. “He said if you don’t like it, you call your congressman. I did and they said, you need to call a senator. So, I called Ben Chafin and he started lopping heads off.”

According to Pearson, his protestations produced results in that one year ago, a VDOT crew came and attempted to shore up the roadway by using gabion baskets as supports, as well as installing a drainage pipe that runs underneath the road.

“Last year, when they put all this in you couldn’t buy a drop of water,” said Pearson. “It was dry as all get out. I told them, up here on this mountain, the water is our enemy, as far as roads go.”

And it shows. As of Saturday, one could clearly see that most of the water coming from the hillside above was seeping under the roadway and pouring out beneath the drainage pipe. Several wire gabion baskets meant to provide support for the road’s edge were laying in and around Specter Branch at the bottom of the ravine.

The eroded condition of Cole Mountain Road has already resulted in issues for property owners.

“The effect just keeps going,” said Pearson. “I need gravel for my driveway. I was just going to use my own personal truck, which is a F-350 quad cab dually. That weighs over 8,000 pounds empty. Am I going to put two or three more tons in it and go across there? No chance.”

Pearson’s other neighbors are in the same boat, in that they too depend on gravel to keep their roads and driveways in good shape and have had to cancel gravel deliveries.

“Along Valhalla we were going to get somewhere around $7,000 worth of gravel,” said Pearson. “We had to cancel that. So our roads are going to hell with potholes because we need the gravel to fill them in.”

Apart from gravel deliveries, if the rains continue to fall and the road is left in its current condition, it is questionable whether Cole Mountain Road will be passable at all in the coming weeks.

Kennth Pearson brought this issue to the attention of The Southwest Times.

“I’m just trying to be that squeaky wheel that gets some oil,” said Pearson.

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