Unlikely Neighbors: Small Northland town battles semi traffic from industrial park, resident fears for children’s safety

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BIRMINGHAM, Mo. – The balance between doing business and keeping students safe on the streets is an argument that has rattled a small Northland town.

The sleepy little town of Birmingham has existed for more than 100 years. Missouri House State Representative Mark Ellebracht represents District 17.

“Birmingham is a very old community in Clay County," he said. "It's been there for quite a while.”

“These are people that have lived here 40, 50 years," Birmingham mother Denise Lewis said. "Our families are here. Our grandparents are here and our children are here.”

The town has been there for 132 years, to be exact, but the Village of Birmingham is now nestled in the middle of a commercial district where large trucks lumber through small town roads. It’s what has Lewis so fired up.

She uses her front yard as her sounding board. She and her husband have spent countless hours tracking tractor trailers, measuring drivers’ speeds and logging hours of operations. She outfits her front yard with signs and props. On the corner, she keeps up a plastic construction worker figurine that she calls “Kenny.”

Lewis said truck drivers have hit him several times. She said she’s afraid it’ll be a child one day.

“I would rather be proactive than reactive with this," Lewis said. "In May, I started a petition with the residents and 73 percent of the residents signed that they do not want any of the transit traffic. They do not want any traffic that doesn’t belong.”

She took her collection of data to State Representative Ellebracht.

“I was very impressed by the amount of information that she had put together," he said. "Basically, she made her case for herself as a great example of a community activist trying to accomplish a good goal.”

“I was like, ‘Hey, we got some traffic studies that we would like for you to look at. The kids have helped make poster boards,'" Lewis said. "We brought him all our pictures. We showed him pictures of semis in town cutting across the church parking lot."

There are many businesses around Birmingham. One of the biggest is Blue Nile Contractors.

“We are partners in this thing," Blue Nile owner Henok Tekeste said. "We want to work with the board, with the citizens of Birmingham, and we want to be a good neighbor.”

“I have no problem with the Blue Nile guys that drive in and out," Lewis said "They are very good at communicating and waving and making sure that they’re doing their job."

When Blue Nile first moved into the area, the company leased part of its land to a metal company.

“We had Heartland Sheets trucks. Those trucks made a big mess," Tekeste said. "They were out of line, outside of the boundary of our contract, and it made some of the neighborhood mad.”

Sometimes in life, the quickest route is not always the best route.” Lewis said. “We put up with semis and big trucks for a year, a year and a half."

She said there was litigation between Birmingham and Blue Nile. That lawsuit ended in April.

“As a business here, sometimes we make mistakes," Tekeste said. "Sometimes they make mistakes, and they correct us, and we correct it. I went to the board meeting and I told them, ‘It’s just a mistake, and that’s passed. Now let’s do this thing the right way.’ We will have a contract that all parties agree and signed.”

Tekeste is now working through negotiations with the village about his newest tenant.

He said, on his company’s dime, he fixes Birmingham roads and removes snow because the city doesn’t have these services. He said he even cleaned the previous landowner’s auto salvage area by building a new facility.

“We did everything they asked us," Tekeste said. "Put the fence in eight foot. We did that. The screen? We did that.”

However, Lewis said Blue Nile is breaking the law by letting another company use part of its land.

“I know that it makes sense for them to cut through Birmingham, but Arlington is just right across the street. They can also take 210 and go there," Lewis said.

They all agree on one thing: no one wants to see a child hit.

“The last thing we want to see is to have one of the children that's waiting for a bus to get injured," Ellebracht said. "We had somebody get hit that was on a bicycle not long ago by one of the tractor trailers.”

“Legitimately they have concerns, and I have to address it," Tekeste said. "If I want to be part of this community, I have to hear. I have to see their concern and help out.”

Tekeste said the village is working through an agreement with the city on the operating hours and the number of vehicles traveling through daily that his tenant will adhere to. The next town hall meeting in Birmingham is 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21 at Town Hall.

Lewis said, “That may be industrial there, that may be industrial on the hill, but Birmingham is forever a farming-loving, God-fearing community and so we’d like to keep it that way.”

The village doesn’t have a police force. It hires Clay County deputies to help with enforcement.

An attorney for the village said Friday she needs some time to answer FOX4’s questions about ordinances. We’ll update this story with that information when it’s received.

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