Georgiana man, county at odds over road closure

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A recent road closure has a Georgiana man and the Butler County Commission at odds.

Royce Lowery contends that Doc Hall Road is a county road and that a gate put up by the landowner restricting access to this road should be removed. Commissioners claim the road in question is not a county road and therefore the commission has no authority to have the gate removed.

“There’s not a question in my mind, or the minds of the people who live in that area, about whether or not this is a county road,” Lowery said. “We know that its has been for more than 100 years.”

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According to Calvin Poole, the attorney for Butler County, the county’s records show that there has been no county maintenance on the road since 1993. Poole also said that due to the lack of records, there is no way to know if the county maintained the road prior to 1993.

“The Commission does not recognize the road in our road system,” Jessie McWilliams, chairman of the Butler County Commission, said.

Lowery did not dispute that the county had no maintained the road in a number of years, but pointed out that a road can still be considered a county road despite the lack of county maintenance.

“I realize the county has not worked on the road in a while,” Lowery said. “It didn’t really need to because the timber companies kept the road up well enough to get timber out, but I know this is a public road. I’ve been using those roads since I was old enough to drive and even before that.”

According to Poole, a road that is not a public road to begin with, can become a public road by general use of the public for a period of 20 years without interruption. A public road can lose its character as a public road by non-use by the general public for a 20-year period of time.

“There’s no way that anyone can say that people in south Butler County have abandoned this road,” Lowery said. “We use it regularly.”

Commissioner Jerry Hartin said he couldn’t remember a time when the road in question was open for public use.

“Some of those gates have been up for years,” he said. “The only people I know who use that road are loggers who work there or hunters who have a lease. I’ve never seen it as an open road. Doc Hall has never been an open road. I’ve hunted over there for a number of years and I’ve always had to walk in. I’ve never driven in.”

According to Poole those wishing to use the road have two options. First, they could obtain permission from the landowners. The second option would be to file a declatory judgment in which the courts would decide if the road is public or private.

“The Commission has asked me to file a lawsuit at my expense,” Lowery said. “I’m asking the Commission to file the lawsuit to determine if the road should be open to the public.”

McWilliams has said the Commission does not plan to take action at this point.

“At this point we don’t have anything that shows it’s a county road,” McWilliams said. “We want to make sure we do the right thing, but right now there are some real questions about whether it’s our road or not.”