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Commissioners opt to keep Herbert Kessler Road open
wiley kessler 1
Wiley Kessler Jr. speaks to Effingham County commissioners about Herbert Kessler Road at their meeting Jan. 3. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

An Effingham County road whose residents have complained of speeders and some of whom asked for the road to be closed will remain open, county commissioners decided.

Commissioners unanimously voted to keep the road open and to obtain the necessary rights-of-way. Residents in favor of keeping the road open aired their views during a public hearing at the Jan. 3 commissioners’ meeting.

“Many more homes will be built on Zittrouer Road and Herbert Kessler Road in the next 10 to 20 years,” Wiley Kessler Jr. said, “and I’m sure they would like to use the Herbert Kessler Road when going to either Rincon or Springfield.”

Kessler asked that the road remain open and that it be maintained to the level it was a few years ago.

“The road is in very poor shape,” he said. “You really can’t get down it. All we want is for the road to be maintained as it has been. We definitely want the road to be kept up like it was three or four years ago. I’ve been driving dirt roads since before y’all were born, so I know what it’s like.”

County public works engineer Toss Allen said the initial costs to maintain the dirt portion of the road would be around $2,000, with about $300 a month in continued maintenance.

The county has right-of-way for about 3,000 feet of the road’s dirt portion, which is about 6,600 feet long. Bringing up the dirt section of the road could cost the county about $800,000, making the road two 11-foot lanes with roadside ditches.

“We have decreased our maintenance of this road, mainly because of this issue,” County Administrator David Crawley said.

Cutting back on the maintenance also was seen as a way to get fewer cars to use it. Crawley said traffic counts on the road show that the amount of vehicles using is not significant. County public works conducted traffic counts along the road, and showed that the average number of vehicles on it is 46 for a weekday and 35 per day on the weekend.

“We don’t feel the traffic justifies improving that road,” Crawley said. “However,  closing that road, we would not recommend that, either.”

Kessler said he and several other property owners along the road have offered the land needed for the right-of-way to the county for free. County officials estimate they need to acquire 7.2 acres of land, at a value of $65,000.

“This road has been a bus route and a mail route for longer than the Blue Jay Road,” he said. “Blue Jay Road was very hard to travel back then.”

Fay Kessler, Wiley Kessler Jr.’s sister-in-law, pressed the commissioners to make a decision on the road. Several landowners have offered to donate the needed rights-of-way.

“My family has made concessions,” she said. “We have tried to co-operate. If you do this for them, then what would you have to do for people in the same situation on a dirt road?”

“We object strenuously to closing any portion of the road,” said Mary Becton. “We would like to see it improved and paved eventually.”

In a letter to commissioners, Wiley Kessler Jr. said he was trying to figure out why Irma Davis and Troy Davis wanted the road closed. The road crosses the Davis’ property.

“This road has been used by the community for more than 100 years,” Wiley Kessler Jr. said. “This road is just as necessary for the property on the north end as it is for the south end. The only reason I have heard from anyone is it is dangerous for the teenagers.”
Crawley said county records indicate that the road was a county road back in the 1970s and a plat shows Herbert Kessler Road as a county road in 1921.

“It is our opinion, our counsel’s opinion, that the prescriptive easement was obtained illegally,” Troy Davis said. “There should not be an easement. I do not think there is a recorded easement on the dirt portion anywhere.”

Davis also asked for the issue to be tabled “to see if we can come to a resolution on this matter.”

Jeff Kilgore asked that the matter be tabled until the county’s road evaluation  is completed and the county also has LIDAR data on the wetlands.

“One of the things I have noticed regarding the current map of the county, on the north end there is a significant portion of the road that is in wetlands,” he said. “In my thoughts, there may be a greater opportunity for a mutual decision once all the options have been reviewed, or maybe mediation between the parties.”

Allen Settles, who owns two parcels of property along Herbert Kessler Road, said the packed ash gravel side of the road has deteriorated the last couple of years.

“So if any of the options include making that side of the road better, I am all for that option,” he said.

The county could have abandoned the section of the road that crosses the Davis property and close that section by putting in a cul-de-sac. Also on the table were acquiring sufficient right-of-way in order to carry out improvements on the entire length of the road and not improving the road, continuing to utilize it as a prescriptive easement.

Had commissioners chosen to close the road, they would have had to pass a resolution stating it was being abandoned. They also would have had to rename a portion of the road.

Crawley also said that if conditions change, the county could give the right-of-way back.

“We are still a rural county; we can’t always be opposed to having dirt roads,” Crawley said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a dirt road. At some point, traffic or other issues will determine if it needs to be another surface.”

But the Herbert Kessler Road issue also means the county needs to take a look at its road network as a whole, Crawley cautioned, and that other roads may put the commissioners in a similar situation.

“This isn’t the only one,” he said.