Friday, August 28, 2015

The Bridge Everyone Forgot

Or Rubber Stamping The Rubber Stamps?

I recently learned that a bridge over the railroad tracks on Franklin Blvd is going to require some of the County owned property we've chosen to build Bessemer Aquaponics on.

Now I'm not entirely happy about that but it's not entirely unexpected. Former Mayor Robbie Perkins made mention of this in 2012 but most folks forgot about it when plans for the Florida Street Extension were put on hold. Me, I knew both would never go away entirely and decided to work with it.

I've since began what has been a multi-week process with the County and the City to find out just how the bridge will be built so that we can plan our construction accordingly. Problem is: No one from the Guilford County Commissioners-- even those involved in the Bessemer Aquaponics Project-- will return my e-mails.

And the City of Greensboro: They claim to know nothing about a bridge except when they do.

"On Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 10:08 AM, Carter, Katherine <> wrote:
Dear Mr. Jones,

Thank you for your public records request (PIRT # 4968) regarding plans for building a bridge over the railroad tracks on Franklin Boulevard.

Unfortunately, the City does not have a record responsive to your request. 

This is a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) project, in their railroad division.  The City has no copies of any plans on this project at Franklin Boulevard and would not be involved in their production.  According to Greensboro Department of Transportation (GDOT), there have been discussions within NCDOT about this project, and some concept plans may have been generated.  

I hope this information is helpful to you.  Should you have any further requests, please let me know.


Katherine Carter, Public Records Administrator
Communications and Marketing Department - 336-373-3282
City of Greensboro
PO Box 3136, Greensboro, NC 27402-3136

To which I replied:

"Thank you Katherine,
Interesting as I have recently gotten an e-mail from Councilwoman Sharon Hightower telling me she has seen these plans. Perhaps you can ask her.
Just for the record: my interest in those plans is for the Bessemer Aquaponics Project: the largest economic development project to come to Greensboro since Cone Mills over a century ago. I'm currently working with the Piedmont Center for Sustainability  NC State University, NC A&T University, Community volunteers, the Guilford County Agricultural Service and Guilford County Commissioners, Guilford County School Board, State Senator Pricey Harrison, the USDA and Congresswoman Alma Adams to bring the first Aquaponics school in North America to Greensboro on 20 plus acres of land owned by Guilford County that will be affected by that railroad bridge. Any help by city staff would be appreciated.
This project will be a large part of the solution to Greensboro's food deserts, capable of sustaining itself once it gets up and running (how many non profits can do that) capable of funding other needed services, and will provide the means for hundreds of business start-ups locally. It will be a boon to Greensboro and IS the regional solution everyone is looking for.
Now please tell the nice folks you work for to make this as painless as possible for me. After all, Franklin Blvd is a City Street and the City is going to be made well aware of anything the State plans to do there. Tell then to please find out.
Thanks as always, hope to meet you soon.

Of course Sharon Hightower couldn't help but open her trap:

" On Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 6:24 PM, Hightower, Sharon <> wrote:

Billy, what I said is I know about plans for Ward Road. I did not mention a bridge.  Please quote me correctly.  I have had discussions about Ward Road and possible planned expansions which could be up to 20 years out.  Discussions do not mean commitment etched in stone.  

Sharon Hightower"

I replied to all:

"Sharon, your e-mail to me:

"On Mon, Aug 17, 2015 at 3:47 PM, Hightower, Sharon <> wrote:
Billy. I know about Ward Road, I've seen all those maps.   I don't care what you interpret, A&T would have to give permission.  Like a lot of projects, they can always resurface.  I have not changed my stance on Florida Street and that is publicly known by City staff and residents.  A Resolution is not needed to stop any project.  It has been stated at MPO meetings that this project is no longer to be funded and they concurred and voted to move funding.  I'm good with that for now and if it surfaces again, I will continue to stand in opposition."
Problem is: Ward Road has received zero funding per the transpiration committee minutes so there are no maps for Ward Road:

"Projects changes since the public review were noted. They included the addition of Ward Road Railroad grade
separation,Alan Branson asked if Ward Road had already been funded. McIntyre noted it had be studied by NCDOT,
but not funded."

What maps were you speaking of, Sharon?
You're so concerned about how you are quoted but nothing you write makes any sense. Do you want me to send everyone else the rest of yours and my conversation which was about the Florida Street Extension and its connection to Franklin Blvd and Huffine Mill Road? It will then be very easy for them to understand why I thought you were talking about Franklin Blvd.
And what maps were you talking about-- I want to see those too.
You see, Sharon, effective communicators don't leave things open to interpretation-- effective communicators make things very clear. Am I making myself clear in saying you are not being an effective communicator?
And people who cannot be effective communicators cannot serve well as elected representatives."
That was the last I heard from Councilwoman Hightower.

Deena Hayes-Green chimed in as well. Seems at least 1 member of the Guilford County School Board might see the value in having the nation's first Aquaponics school located in an east Greensboro food desert within 1/4 mile of 5 Guilford County Schools:

"On Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 11:50 PM, Deena Hayes <> wrote:
I attended the last Aquaponics meeting at the AG center a few weeks ago.  Prior to attending the session that was facilitated by NC State researchers, designers and experts in Aquaponics, my knowledge was about this topic was (still is) severely limited.

I had heard Billy talking about it and read the articles and information that he shared on facebook.  I also had an opportunity to view the "makeshift" or experimental prototype he has spent the summer working on.  I went to the session at the Ag center because I was curious about whether this idea was really possible as an economic opportunity for distressed communities.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and I am so impressed with the advancements in this area that I want to continue to be part of the exploration.  I really want to encourage you to take the time to get to know the mechanics and progress of Aquaponics in our state and area.  For what its worth, I think it is an exciting project.

Thanks for listening, 

Deena Hayes-Greene
Racial Equity Institute, LLC"

I replied to everyone:

"Howdy all,
A bridge over the railroad tracks on Franklin Blvd is planned. See page 72: It doesn't actually say bridge but as the only other option would be a $Billion Dollar tunnel I think a bridge assumption is safe in this instance.
As at least 2 of the city council members who are receiving this e-mail are on the MPO Transportation Committee and 1 happens to be my district representative I would appreciate your help and the help of city officials in getting my hands on the plans for that bridge so that we might take them into account in planning construction of Bessemer Aquaponics. After all: the City, County and State will not want to buy a newly constructed building just to tear it down, right?
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Oh, by the way, did any of you know Guilford County used to operate an insane asylum at the intersection of Burlington Road and Franklin Blvd across the street from where the Ag Center is today until the 1950s? It was all the same piece of property then. A friend of mine used to deliver newspapers to the patents inside there. Said it really freaked him out as a 15 year old seeing grown people walk around naked talking to themselves and playing with stuffed animals. That's one thing I'm glad is gone as I got that same paper route years later when I was only eleven.
And how many of you knew the first big box retailer in the Piedmont Triad, perhaps the first in North Carolina was next door to the Ag Center-- Clarks Department Store, later called Cooks. It was the first building in all of Bessemer and for that matter, all of East Greensboro, to have air conditioning. On a hot summer's day during the week the parking lot filled with more bicycles than cars as kids rode from miles around to cool off as none of us had AC at home.
The first 3 fast food restaurants in Greensboro including the first McDonalds in North Carolina were also in the neighborhood. Only the McDonalds remains.
And we had lots of Grocery stores.


Now this is interesting: From Page 74 of this City of Greensboro document 
hosted on the City of Greensboro website and submitted to the public for public comment and approval: 

So let me get this straight, the LEAD PLANNING AGENCY knows nothing about plans to build a Franklin Blvd Grade Separation, aka bridge that is listed on the very same page I lifted this screen grab from?

And this plan has been approved by Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan, Councilwoman Marikay Abuziater and Councilman Jamal Fox, 3 guilford County Commissioners and is now being submitted to the public for public approvial?

And nobody knows what the fucking plan is?


All I wanted to know was where we could put the building so it wouldn't have to be torn down later. Is that too much to ask? That's all I was trying to find out but as usual I stumbled across the sheer lunacy that is our local governance.

Yes folks, most of what I dig up on local government are things I simply stumble across while looking for other things.

I heard back from Katherine this morning:

"Dear Mr. Jones,

I wish you the best of luck with the Bessemer Aquaponics project, as it sounds very promising, however unfortunately, my understanding at this time is that the City does not have the records that you are requesting.  I would encourage you to direct your request to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, as they would be the custodian of the records you wish to obtain.  

Please let me know if you have any further requests.


Katherine Carter, Public Records Administrator
Communications and Marketing Department - 336-373-3282
City of Greensboro
PO Box 3136, Greensboro, NC 27402-3136"

I really wouldn't want Katherine's job as I'd be too apt to take things personal-- you know, like I often do. I replied back:

"Thank you Katherine. You're doing a great job stuck in the middle like you are. And none of my comments are directed at you. I just find it amazing that City Council members and County Commissioners can approve a project then submit that same said project for public comment as they have done when none of them have supposedly seen the plans and the city has no copies of the plans.
Kinda makes you feel secure in our leadership, doesn't it?
Wait, don't answer, you could lose your job for answering such comments-- just look away from the cameras and wink. I'll know.
And consider this PIRT closed.
Thanks as always. -Billy"

So I guess I'll be contacting the North Carolina Railroad and the North Carolina Department of Transportation Railroad Division to find out what we need to know to build the first Aquaponics school in North America and turn Greensboro around economicly.

I've stumbled upon but one worm hole in a multi-billion dollar budget-- $20, $30 Million Dollars?-- but I can't help but wonder, what else is in the 2016-2025 Greensboro Urban Area Metropolitan  Transportation Improvement Plan that no one, including our elected representatives, knows anything about? And what will be its effect on Greensboro's working class?

And all I want to do is build a school that teaches something that isn't taught anywhere else-- something that is sorely needed for the future of the entire world without asking for City or County money and with nothing in it for me personally-- not even a paying job.

Are we rubber stamping the rubber stamps?

Please share.