BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Highway Committee declined to add Morgan Branch Lane to the official county road list on Monday, on the basis of the regulation that roads must first meet county specifications before they can be on the official list.
Morgan Branch Lane is located in the Pebble Mountain community, and about .27 of a mile of the lane -- up to the point where the asphalt ends -- is already on the county road list.
The road, however, cuts through a subdivided tract, continuing another .75 of a mile beyond the point where county maintenance ends.
There are several homes with driveways off that remaining portion. Of that remainder, at least .3 of a mile has been washed out by flooding and has become deeply rutted and covered in river rock.
On Monday, members of the Road Committee traveled across the county in two four-wheel-drive trucks to survey the road a second time.
County Commissioner Robin Quillen said she and some of the other members first came out to survey the roadway about a year ago, when the complaint was first made to the Highway Committee.
KOVALICKS EXPLAIN PROBLEM
Joe and Betty Kovalick and their son's fiancée, Mary Bittner, recently raised the complaint again with the committee, pointing out what they said is the nearly-impassable condition of the roadway.
Betty Kovalick also noted that she and her husband are unable to subdivide their three acres in order to give property to her children because the property does not have frontage on an official county road.
Bittner noted that, for the same reason (lack of county road frontage), she cannot even get a building permit from the county.
The Kovalicks first purchased the land in the 1970s, at which time Joe Kovalick said he believed it to be a county road all the way through.
The county graded and graveled the road during the first several years they lived there, the couple said, but stopped the maintenance shortly before the official county road list was created in 1985.
The couple thought that perhaps the county had removed their road from its maintenance list without informing them, but County Attorney Roger Woosley explained that the section of Morgan Branch Lane where their property is located was likely never officially a county road.
In the 1970s, the county would gravel any road as funds were available, Woolsey said.
However, Woolsey explained, the state stepped in during 1985 to force counties to create an official road list to prevent taxpayers' money from being used to fund maintenance of private roads, as well as to prevent favoritism.
"I'll agree that road is horrible," he said. "It's nothing but horrible."
Betty Kovalick explained that it is not possible for the families to afford the extensive work that would be needed to bring the road up to county specifications, as is required in order for the county to accept it on the official road list.
"We filled in the big holes," she said, explaining that there were holes as deep as four feet after the heavy flooding of August 2001.
"Well I'd hate to have seen it if I didn't see all the holes today," Woolsey replied.
"It's pretty much a bed of river rock," Road Superintendent David Weems said.
He told the committee that there are several other subdivisions that, prior to the creation of the county's subdivision regulations, were developed off private roadways that are now "growing up" from weeds and overgrowth.
"There's one on Viking Mountian, one on Round Knob, one down here off Newport Road," Weems explained.
The committee heard from Unaka District Ranger Terry Bowerman, of the U.S. Forest Service, who explained that the slightest portion of Morgan Branch Lane passes through Forest Service land.
But he added that the county has the necessary right-of -way along this section of Morgan Branch Lane already properly deeded to the county, should the County Commission choose to make improvements in the road.
As for the Forest Service itself making any improvements, he noted the several hundred miles of roads that the USFS is already maintaining on "limited funds."
"This is a battle we've fought quite often. It goes back to what he talked about -- limited funds. It's always a problem," Commissioner Tim White told the Kovalicks.
He estimated that it would take as much as $100,000 to fill the roadway and cover it in a base stone. That does not include, he said, the cost involved in laying asphalt, as county standards require for new roadways.
"That's what we're up against all the time. If we open your road, we're going to have a dozen more in here wanting us to open their road 'so we can subdivide,'" White said.
He and numerous other members of the committee expressed their sympathy and their compassion for the situation, and asked that Woolsey aid the family in contacting soil conservation specialists to see if any funding is available for the repair of washed-out roadways.
In other business, the committee unanimously requested that Woolsey draft a resolution to be considered by the County Commission.
The resolution would request that state legislators reconsider the state law that currently prohibits county governments and municipalities from using county-made asphalt for paving county-owned or municipality-owned parking lots and other such uses.
Currently, state law only allows county-made asphalt to be used on county roads.
Weems said he wants to do a cost-savings study of the county's new asphalt plant at the end of the year.
He said he has so far laid 35,000 tons of asphalt on county roads at a cost of about $45 per ton.
GATE MUST BE REMOVED
The committee declined to allow Alan Kinley to keep a gate across Kinley Lane, which is a county road.
Kinley explained that he put the gate up to deter theft from the estate which borders both sides of the road beginning where he erected the gate.
He said that it would only remain in place until the estate is settled.
Woolsey told the committee that the decision is legally in the hands of Weems, as road superintendent, but added that the state would likely advise against allowing gating a public road.
The county attorney explained that some citizens will feel that it is the public's right to have access to that road, in addition to the possible need for access by an ambulance or fire truck.
Weems said he once tried to allow a gate early in his term as superintendent, but had quickly found them to be a cause of dispute.
He said he had already received complaints from the U.S. Postal Service and others concerning the gate at Kinley Lane.
Weems asked that Kinley remove the gate. Kinley readily agreed and assured the committee that he had meant no harm in placing it there.
The committee also declined to consider revisiting the issue of the county's speed limits, which the committee previously set at 45 mph for striped roads and 35 mph on unmarked roads.
White presented a request from a resident on Barnside Lane to post a 15 mph limit on the unmarked lane.
"They're going to go whatever they want to go," Quillen noted, referencing her experiences with motorists on the roadway on which she lives.
She said that to change the speed limit for one would start a "domino effect," just as it would if the county agreed to improve Morgan Branch Lane for the Kovalicks.
In a final piece of business, Weems requested Woolsey's advice on two roadways in which a fence is on the county right-of-way.
Woolsey advised that the county right-of-way should always extend 25 feet on each side from the center of the roadway, but he offered to take declaratory action on one situation in which the property-owner is claiming the roadway has shifted.
Taking declaratory action will mean presenting the situation before the chancellor, declaring the county's intent to move the fence with the understanding that the road has not shifted, and presenting evidence of that assertion, Woolsey said.
This, he added, will turn a "gray area" to a black-and-white situation because they will have an official legal ruling from the chancellor before any work is done.
The committee declined to address a matter in which a property-owner complained of neighbors' blowing grass onto the roadway when they mow, with the result that he fears sliding when riding his motorcycle on the roadway.