Roads still an issue for County

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By Calen McKinney

Even though a majority of nearby landowners are against it - and have publicly said so several times - magistrates voted 4-2 Tuesday to open a portion of Cat Hollow Road that is currently impassible to traffic.

And that decision could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For the past three months, magistrates have discussed a request to close part of Cat Hollow Road first brought to the Court by Taylor County landowners Robert and Patricia Winlock in September.

At the Court's October meeting, Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers said Cat Hollow Road - which is in the 3rd magisterial district - dead ends into a creek and the County has not maintained it for more than three decades.

In September, Patricia Winlock asked the Court to either begin maintaining the road or relinquish its status as a County road. She said she would prefer that the County remove the road from its road system so it would not be a burden on taxpayers.

Robert Winlock said no one uses the road and if someone did want to drive over it, there would be no way to cross it because of the creek. In order to cross the road, he said, someone would have to trespass on their property.

At Tuesday's regular Fiscal Court meeting, 3rd District Magistrate Milford Lowe made a motion to leave Cat Hollow Road in the County road system and begin maintaining it. Magistrate Ed Gorin seconded Lowe's motion.

Before the issue came to a vote, however, the Winlocks again expressed their desire to have the road closed and removed from the County road system.

Robert Winlock said he has had problems with people attempting to burn down his barn and steal some of his property.

He said he doesn't understand why the road needs to stay open when there isn't really a road there. The road, he said, is not passable.

Rogers said he wanted magistrates to understand that if the road remains opened and the County begins maintaining it, bridges will have to be built to make the road passable.

"[That's] a lot of expense," he said, "and [could be] a burden to the County."

Rogers said the expense of maintaining the road and making it passable could reach as much as $200,000.

Lowe said he believes the state might provide some funding to help pay for the cost of building bridges.

Patricia Winlock asked magistrates why they would vote to keep the road open if the majority of landowners are against opening it.

Lowe said some landowners have told him they want the road to remain open and he thinks the County should pay for some re-construction. He said one landowner also told him that he wants to build a house in the area.

"What reason [is there] to put money in it when [a majority of landowners] are not asking for that?" Patricia Winlock asked.

She later told the Court that five of the seven landowners in the Cat Hollow Road area want the road closed.

Robert Winlock said landowners who want the road to remain open should have attended the meetings when the issue was discussed to voice their opinions.

Magistrate John Gaines asked County Attorney Craig Cox if a public hearing would have to be scheduled if the Court voted to close the road.

Cox said a public hearing would be required, but the Court must first vote to begin the process of removing a road from the County road system.

Gaines asked the purpose in keeping the road open.

Lowe said there are people who own property in the area and want to use the road to drive down to their property.

Patricia Winlock said several landowners have said they would rather see money spent on nearby Raikes Hill Road than on Cat Hollow Road.

Taylor County resident Shirley Noel said she owns property on Cat Hollow Road and wants to see it stay open.

Gaines asked why a motion needed to be approved to keep the road open if it currently is open.

Rogers said the Winlocks want to see some sort of decision on the issue and a motion to either close the road or keep it open is necessary.

He said if the road remains open, the County will essentially have to rebuild a portion of it.

County Road Foreman Brian Smothers agreed and said two bridges or two large tiles would have to be installed to make the road passable. He said the road is currently just a grassy area.

After about 30 minutes of discussion on the issue, Rogers asked for a roll call vote on Lowe's motion to keep the road open and begin maintaining it.

Magistrates Lowe, Gorin, Marshall Caulk and Richard Phillips voted "yes" to keep the road open and begin maintaining it. Magistrates James Jones and Gaines voted "no."

Patricia Winlock asked the Court what she and her husband need to do for the County to start the process of rebuilding their portion of Cat Hollow Road.

Rogers said the County currently doesn't have any money to put toward the project, but Lowe would be the magistrate responsible for directing the Court as to ways to find the money needed to make the necessary repairs.

Patrick Winlock said only two of the seven Cat Hollow Road landowners are in favor of keeping the road open.

"Milford, thanks for representing the people," she said.

Gaines said he remembers a tile being used in the area of Cat Hollow Road the Winlocks own, but Rogers said there is no way simply installing a tile would make the road passable.

In response to a question, Cox said there is no state mandate that requires counties to maintain its County roads to a certain standard.

Cox said counties are only required to maintain County roads as the need is dictated. In this case, he said, no maintenance has been dictated. He said there may sometimes be no maintenance, and being a County road may only mean that a county simply has the right to maintain it.

On Wednesday, Caulk said he only voted to keep the road open because there were some landowners who wanted it open. He said he wasn't sure what the County will do about maintaining the road.

Gorin and Phillips could not be reached for comment before press time.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com.

---Magistrates also voted 4-2 Tuesday night at the Fiscal Court's regular monthly meeting in favor of a recommendation by the Court's Transportation Committee to no longer accept gravel roads into the County road system.

See Monday's issue for more on the Court's approval.