A disputed road will remain open, Effingham County commissioners decided Tuesday night.
Commissioners, after nearly an hour and 45 minutes of discussion and debate, voted to keep Herbert Kessler Road open with a 3-1 count. Commissioner Steve Mason voted against Commissioner Forrest Floyd’s motion to keep the road open, and Commissioner Vera Jones recused herself from the issue. Under the alternative approved by commissioners, the county will acquire sufficient right-of-way to maintain the entire road and allow it to remain open.
Mathew McCoy, the attorney for the Davis family, said his clients “vehemently oppose” the county’s course of action. The county has been in talks for two years with the family on relocating the road away from the Davis’ house.
McCoy said his clients bought four lots as a buffer.
“We don’t want the land right in front of the Davis’ homestead to be condemned,” he said. “It is Centennial Farm property.”
McCoy asked the commissioners not to approve Floyd’s motion — an earlier motion by Mason to abandon the road and install cul-de-sacs at the edge of the Davis’ property failed to gain a second — and for both sides to continue working on the matter.
“We’ve been doing that for a year,” said Commissioner Reggie Loper, “and y’all have turned everything down.”
Floyd offered his motion, which was seconded, and Chairman Wendall Kessler asked if Floyd would grant the Davis family and McCoy enough time to come up with an alternative.
“I honestly don’t believe there is going to be a change,” Floyd said. “We’ve tried to come to an agreement.”
Said Kessler: “I thought it would be one last-ditch effort.”
Kessler said he also hoped to avoid further litigation and legal costs with giving the Davis family more time to propose an alternative solution.
“The county has worked through the process to try to get to a point where we could get a road opened up. And none of that has worked,” the chairman said. “For one reason or another, we stay in litigation.
“If there was some way that I could walk out of here today and know that I didn’t have to go back into court, I would rather do that for the sake of the people of this county. That’s the only reason I’m giving them a minute to talk about this thing. If they are willing to meet us where I thought we were a year ago and move that thing down from where we staked it out, then I would ask to keep this open and not limit it to where we are right now.”
The county twice has proposed alternate routes for the road, but each has been rebuffed by a judge.
The Davises have questioned whether the county has a prescriptive easement. Other residents said the road has been a county road since 1921.
Fay Kessler also asked commissioners to keep the road open.
“Abandoning the road would not benefit the public in any way,” she said.
She also called upon the Davises to donate the land for the cul-de-sacs if the road was abandoned, as they have requested.
Mary Becton said there have been a lot of problems on the road because the lack of maintenance. About half of the road is unpaved and the remaining portion is ash surface.
“The condition of the road has sort of closed itself,” she said. “I urge the road remain open.”
Several residents along the road asked the county to keep it open. Members of the Becton family signed a letter to commissioners stating that closing the section of road would interfere with safety personnel, mail delivery, fire trucks, school buses, sanitation trucks and other services. It also would force residents to go to Blue Jay Road and then to Midland, if they had to take Midland Road for points south and east.
They also feared closing the road would lead to the dumping of trash and abandoned animals and attract alcohol and drug users.
Chairman Kessler acknowledged the road has fallen into poor shape, but there hasn’t been much the county has been allowed to do.
“We’ve kind of had our hands tied by the court as to what we can and can’t do,” he said.
Chairman Kessler also said that no through traffic signs on the road were erected through an agreement dictated by a judge.
McCoy said establishing a right-of-way through the Davis’ land would result in more litigation.
“We support the county abandoning whatever right it may have to use that road in an effort to resolve that litigation,” he said. “Abandoning the right-of-way in front of the Davis’ property makes the most sense.”
McCoy said closing the road makes perfect sense from a safety standpoint.
“It’s a raceway when it’s graded,” he said. “It’s a mud bog at times. It’s an avenue for poaching and a ton of illegal activity. One thing criminals want is a way out. If they have two cul-de-sacs at either end, they are not going to be doing that. It will no longer be a raceway. It will no longer be a safety hazard.”
Two other Herbert Kessler Road residents said they were in favor of closing the road. William Cox said the road’s condition has gotten so bad, closing it would make it safer.
“We’ve witnessed how fast people go down that torn-up road now,” said Bob Hart, who has lived on the road for three years. “To improve the road would be to increase the speed.”
Mason said the Davis offered a utility easement for future development, if the section of road they seek to be abandoned. They also offered to donate the land needed for the two cul-de-sacs, if the road was abandoned.
“We’re even willing to construct the cul-de-sac on the paved end,” said Troy Davis.
Commissioners voted two years to keep the road open, and they had four alternatives presented Tuesday for their action, including relocating the road section adjacent to the Davis’ house further away from the section while allowing the road to remain open and taking no action, allowing the road to remain open in a nearly impassable state within a prescriptive easement.
“We want the litigation to end,” McCoy said.
Said Commissioner Phil Kieffer: “We could wind up in a lawsuit either way.”