Some residents near Tuscaloosa, Ala., apparently have a fear that truckers may use a proposed convenience store for more than buying diesel.
Approximately 70 residents of the small Duncanville community gathered at a volunteer fire department Aug. 16 to voice their concerns over the store, which they say will endanger students of the nearby Maxwell Elementary School. Complaints ranged from highway safety issues to concerns that truckers would attempt to prey on the children of the school.
“It’s not just truckers,” said Angela Hayden, a local resident who has a first-grader enrolled at Maxwell. “It’s just the unknown factor of people there that we don’t know.”
But the most inflammatory comments were aimed directly at truckers, as comments from one parent earlier in the week showed.
“I have a fear of a truck driver stopping and saying, ‘That’s a nice-looking kid, I think I’ll take him,'” parent Teresa Mello told The Tuscaloosa News Aug. 15.
Not all of the residents in attendance were critical of truck drivers. One woman, who identified herself as a bus driver at Maxwell Elementary, criticized meeting organizers for unfairly singling out truckers.
“You’re saying that these drivers are perverts, and that’s just not right,” the bus driver said. “There are a lot of people in this room tonight who have family members who are truck drivers.”
“We’re not saying that all truck drivers are perverts, we’re saying that it’s a possibility,” Hayden said at the meeting. “These are our concerns.”
The proposed convenience store would have diesel pumps, but would not be a truckstop. A survey of the site showed that space is too limited for large-scale diesel truck parking.
Duncanville already has such a store only a few miles away, and there has been no problem with trucks congregating at the facility, one resident said. Another pointed out that an even greater risk to the children of Maxwell Elementary was a nearby juvenile court and detention facility.
In addition to concerns over truckers, residents said getting in and out of the store’s parking lot could prove hazardous. Those concerns seemed to have merit, as the store is located atop a blind hill – a characteristic all too common with U.S. Highway 82 east of Tuscaloosa. Residents were also upset that the store would be allowed to sell tobacco and alcohol so close to the school.
State Sen. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, and Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, were in attendance at the meeting, but both said the residents had little recourse for their complaints.
“The facility itself is probably a done deal,” Allen said. “But things like an alcohol license for the store could be up for serious debate, since it is so close to the school.”
Poole said regulating how close to a school a store could be placed, particularly one that sold alcohol or tobacco, would be a question best raised at the state level.
Hayden said residents’ concerns should be enough to impede construction of the store. She said approximately 175 residents had signed petitions against the store before the Aug. 16 meeting.
“I’m not saying any of these things will happen, but they can’t promise us they won’t happen, either,” she said.