The Jefferson County Commissioners on Thursday approved a request to help fund a study for a new gateway approach at the Madison-Milton bridge after hearing from current and former community officials.

Madison businessman and consultant Mike Flint and Mayor Damon Welch presented information regarding an environmental impact study needed to move forward with the possibility of straightening the U.S. 421 bridge approach. Former Madison mayors, business leaders and a few residents attended the meeting to show support for the study, while other area residents expressed concern.

"We're just at the start of it," Flint said of the project.

Flint said several groups, including government and industry leaders, had worked to earmark $365,000 of the $400,000 needed for an impact study. He asked the commissioners to contribute the last $35,000 of the project to show the Indiana Department of Transportation several area groups made a collaborative effort to move forward with the project.

Welch called the bridge approach a gateway to the community and state since the approach is often the first view visitors see when entering from Kentucky. A reconfiguration of the area may enhance the neighborhood and provide added safety for travelers on U.S. 421, he said.

The environmental study would provide information about possible changes to the area with special attention given to the National Historic Landmark District guidelines.

Madison resident Robin Henderson spoke during the meeting about the options of the project. He owns a home in the area that could be in the way of a new redesigned approach. 

"We don't want to lose our house," he said.

Henderson agreed a straightened approach would be an improvement, but still questioned the possible plans and timing of the study. He requested information from the state department, he said, and INDOT doesn't have any plans to for the bridge approach project in their five-year plan through 2018.

"I want to see it done," Henderson said, "but I want to see it done in the right way."

The group of community leaders has been in contact with INDOT, and while Welch said he wasn't at liberty to give certain details, the state department is aware of the community's hope to see change in the approach.

"What I can say, they are very interested in this project," he said.

Former Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong said some INDOT projects may not be in the five-year plan - like the Madison-Milton bridge replacement - but special instances and circumstances could fast-track projects. Community collaboration and support helps projects move forward, he said. 

"We've got the eyes and ears of INDOT right now because we're getting ready to open a brand new bridge," Welch said. "The timing is now to start the process."

Flint assured Commissioners that funds for the study would be placed in a separate account and would not be used until the project would become a reality. 

Commissioners unanimously approved the $35,000 funding request, 3-0.

Also during the meeting, Amy Schmidt discussed the demolition of older buildings with historic ties to the state and community.

"It has come to my attention there are some unique stone structures that have come under attack," she said, noting the destruction of a stone home on built in the early 1800s.

Several other unique structures remain on properties in eastern Jefferson County outside of Madison's historic district. Nearly 90 stone structures from the 1800s still exist in the county, Schmidt said, but only seven of those structures are within the historic district.

Some state Department of Natural Resource regulations classify some of the stone structures as historical artifacts. It's illegal to disturb the ground surrounding artifacts without proper review and documentation, Schmidt said.

Schmidt researched several of the stone structures throughout the area and state for her bachelor's degree, she said. While her interest comes from her research and the historical value in the structures, she hopes other community members might take more interest in the buildings if they knew.

While he agrees some documentation should be made, Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski said he also believes people should be able to complete demolition projects to improve their own property. 

Commissioner Mark Cash supports educating area individuals of the historical significance of the stone structures, which Schmidt hopes to do through her own research and brochures.

County attorney Wil Goering told the Commissioners the issue might also be best discussed with planning and zoning or the county's surveyor to help get the message out about the historic structures on properties prior to demolition.