By Dave Pearce
It has been a tough year for area farmers. Besides the drought, some farmers in the area were hit with yet another setback with the announcement of the closing of the bridge at New Harmony. That announcement was made the week of Memorial Day.
But thanks to the likes of Posey County Sheriff Greg Oeth, the Indiana and Posey County farm bureaus, and INDOT, it looks as if an agreement should be reached in time to help save these area farmers countless hours and dollars come harvest time.
While residents on both the Illinois and Indiana side of the bridge were given the option to pass into Illinois or Indiana via Interstate 64 to Grayville, area farmers are not given that luxury since it is illegal for farm equipment to travel on an Interstate highway.
Posey County Sheriff Greg Oeth was recently contacted by farmers in the area who indicated to him that not only were they no longer able to use the New Harmony bridge, they also could not use the Interstate. That means that a farmer traveling from Poseyville, Griffin, New Harmony, or even parts of Gibson County into Illinois must now travel first to Mount Vernon, Ind., and then travel into Illinois.
Local farmer Tim Wiley said he timed the route earlier this week and it took him over two hours just to make the trip to the bridge and back from his family’s New Harmony area farm.
“I got involved with it just after the bridge closed,” Oeth said on Sunday. “Tim and I had a conversation and he and his dad and brother were in a bad way. And there are some other farmers in the area who are looking at extended hours and expenses.”
“Some of these individuals have farm ground immediately across the river,” Oeth said. “And what once was a five-minute trip now has turned into nearly a two-hour trip just one way. It’s really a bad situation for them.”
Oeth said he had gotten involved with a similar situation back in the 1990s when the bridge was closed due to some construction or renovation.
“I knew the sheriff and the Indiana Department of Transportation was involved back then so I got in touch with White County Sheriff and told him we would do what we could do and they promised to do what they could do to help the farmers,” Oeth said.
This time is no different. Recently, Indiana Farm Bureau representative Mark Seib met with a representative from INDOT as well as Oeth and some of the affected farmers. The group is in the process of putting together a packet for INDOT to see if a suitable agreement can be arranged to where farmers may use the Interstate, with the help of a police escort.
“I got in touch with Sheriff Doug Maier over in White County, Ill., and they agreed to do everything they could do to help,” Oeth said. “Now it is a matter of putting together a plan by which we can provide an escort which can be met at the Illinois line until the farmers can exit off the Interstate. He offered to let us escort them all the way over to Route 1. We have cooperation from both sides of the river.”
Oeth said that the Posey County Commissioners plan to write a letter of endorsement for the plan and offer up some encouragement to INDOT officials during their Tuesday meeting this week.
Oeth said this is just another example of the diversity of Posey County.
“When I was running for election, I made the comment that this is an incredibly diverse county,” Oeth said. “Not only do we have agricultural needs but we also have industrial needs. We will do whatever we need to do to help these people.”
“We just have to have the people willing to put together all the information required by INDOT and then someone there will have to make a decision as to whether or not they will allow us to help these farmers,” Oeth said.
By Dave Pearce
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