By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — An interlocal agreement with Jeffersonville, Clarksville and the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau received an approval Wednesday to fight tolling on Interstate 65 bridges over the Ohio River.
All three entities pledged $10,000 to go toward an effort against tolls on the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
While the three groups had previously offered the funding related to a potential lawsuit, questions of whether or not public monies could go toward a private nonprofit entity heading up the suit — Organization for a Better Southern Indiana-- caused some concern among the boards.
The interlocal agreement introduced Wednesday broadened the scope of how the entities can use the money to fight tolls on the newly planned Interstate 65 bridge, which will be the northbound span, and the existing Kennedy Bridge, which will be converted into a southbound-only bridge.
According to the interlocal agreement, the $30,000 total will “be disbursed for the purpose of funding opposition to tolling.”
However, language remained that would allow the money to be used to help pay for a lawsuit.
“The purpose of this agreement is to fight the prospect of tolling in any number of ways, including litigation, and the agreement to retain counsel to file suit if necessary within the confines of the amount of this contribution of $30,000,” according to the agreement.
Clarksville, Jeffersonville and the tourism bureau have all voiced their concerns that tolling on the downtown corridor will have a negative economic affect on Southern Indiana.
“Much of the funding is believed to be unnecessary and [is] for the improvement of what is known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’... in Kentucky and is of minimal value to the people of Indiana,” according to the interlocal agreement. “Having tolls gives an unfair competitive advantage to businesses in Kentucky.”
By signing the agreement, the entities would deposit the $10,000 pledged to go into the tourism bureau’s account. How the money will be spent will remain a joint decision between the three entities.
The interlocal agreement requires that each entity choose two representatives to serve on the committee that will determine how it will fight tolling.
The tourism bureau named its two appointments to serve on the six-person board Wednesday. The appointments were Board Member Mike Kapfhammer and Tourism Bureau Executive Director Jim Keith.
While the potential for one lawsuit remains, another lawsuit filed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields Inc. was settled in early January. Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, who sought to join the suit filed by River Fields, has litigation pending against the bridges project.
The downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project is being completed by Kentucky and its contractor, Walsh Construction Co., to rebuild Spaghetti Junction and construct a new Interstate 65 bridge. The work is expected to be completed by December 2016 at a cost of $971 million.
Toll rates for both the east-end and the downtown portions of the bridges project have not been set.
Some changes to the tourism bureau’s board are already known, while others have yet to be determined.
Board Member Bob Popp, a Clarksville appointment, said he has chosen to leave the board and will be replaced by Nancy Kraft. Board Member Carl Holliday, an appointment of the Mayor of New Albany, has decided to not serve on the board again, but it is unknown who will be his replacement.
The new board members’ first meeting will be Feb. 20.
Before announcing the new leadership for the tourism bureau board, President Jim Becker thanked the board for their service during his tenure.
He then announced the officers for 2013 will be Bill Keeney, who was formerly the board-vice president and will serve as the new board president; Mark Bliss, who formerly served as the board secretary and will step into the vice-president’s role; Tony Singleton was named as the new board secretary; and Carlene Bottorff will remain as the board treasurer.