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Commission discusses homeless camping under bridge
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Commission discusses homeless camping under bridge

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Commission discusses homeless camping under bridge

St. Francois County is grappling with the problem of homeless camping under the Vo-Tech Road Bridge at Big River.

The St. Francois County Commission continued to grapple with the problem of homeless camping at the river access at the Vo-Tech Bridge at their regular session last Tuesday at the courthouse annex.

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher said Sheriff Bullock, Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam and others discussed the matter and, “the thoughts are that it is all camping or none. You can’t go partial in there.”

Gilliam brought up the proposal being discussed of allowing people to camp two nights in 30 days.

Gallaher noted that the issue seemed to be less of a problem, noting that he went by the location the night before and no one was there. Highway Administrator John Gross said that there was camping the day before.

Highway Superintendent Clay Copeland brought up the problem of vehicle access and that there have been some vehicles that have been driven in the river.

Sheriff Bullock interjected, “If they have been driving in the river, then the (Department of) Conservation will handle that. They can’t actually drive in the river.”

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson added, “My thought is, we really don’t want to ban everyone from camping there. I’m not comfortable with what we are seeing now, but I don’t think we ought to do something just to target that and affect everyone."

Bullock observed that if camping was limited to two nights per 30-day period, that the plan would treat everyone equally.

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Gallaher wondered how the sheriff’s department could enforce the measure using multiple deputies on different days.

Gilliam explained her discussions with Bullock on enforcement and what she would require to press charges.

“Sheriff Dan and I were speaking about whether or not they would have the manpower and resources to do that, because we would need both the deputy who observed them at some point and then the later point if they had overextended the two days,” she said. “We would have to be able to prove in court that they were there longer than the two days for the trespassing. We talked about if there was a way to document it for the deputies to know if they had been there than the allotted time would be.”

Bullock said that his deputies are across that bridge several times a day.

“We can document that through 911, we can recall that,” he said.

After discussing several scenarios, Wilkinson said that they need to think about the situation more and not be in a hurry that may not be the right answer.

Copeland again brought up the problem of motorized access below the bridge.

“They’re creating their own access roads through encroachment of the bridge,” he said. “I think that is imposing an additional danger…”

The commission decided that road and bridge department would install signs listing the state statute prohibiting motorized access to the river.

The commission will return to meeting every other week until further notice with the next meeting scheduled for Aug. 11 at 10 a.m.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

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