Monday’s County Commission meeting was a bit like deja vu.
After virtually no agenda items and little discussion for several months running, a topic with some meat to it surfaced at Monday’s monthly workshop — Litton Covered Bridge Road.
For the first time in several months, commissioners were engaged in real, hearty, lengthy discussion — but it was over an issue that seemingly should’ve been settled long before now.
To be fair, the renewed discussion was generated by JR Hembree’s request for the hotly-debated roadway to be closed at his property line near where the blacktop ends and the road turns to dirt. That was new; although Hembree has broached the subject with Scott County Mayor Dale Perdue in the past, Monday’s meeting marked the first time the Huntsville resident had approached County Commission to formally request the road closure.
But Hembree didn’t do much talking at Monday’s meeting, as the discussion instead turned to why the road was closed at the property line of Steve Howard, and what County Commission could do to have the road reopened.
This matter seems to be such an open-and-shut affair, at face value, that it’s vexing why it’s still an issue in 2018. The road goes nowhere, hasn’t been touched by a piece of the county’s road maintenance equipment in years, and serves no purpose.
Yet it generated more discussion at Monday’s meeting — where it was discussed for the umpteenth time — than has any topic in several months.
Frankly, that’s perplexing.
Commissioners who are in favor of seeing the road reopened have a point, of course. The county won a recent legal battle over the road, with 8th Judicial District Chancellor Elizabeth Asbury ruling last spring that Litton Covered Bridge Road is, in fact, a county road. Since County Commission is the only entity at this point that can close the road, and since the legislative body has denied requests to do so, the road should legally be open.
But it seems the real issue isn’t whether Litton Covered Bridge Road is a county road, but whether it should remain a county road. To that end, it could be argued that there was a lesson to be learned last year that wasn't. After voting to reject a petition to close Sawmill Road in Robbins, the county found itself spending several thousand dollars in taxpayer funds to purchase right-of-way to fix that same road after it was rendered impassible by a mudslide amid heavy spring rains.
Likewise, Litton Covered Bridge Road is only going to cost the taxpayers of Scott County. If County Commission wins its battle to see the road reopened, it’s not a matter of if the taxpayers are going to have to pay to fix it, but when. It might take another lawsuit on the Howards’ part to force the county’s hand through court, but ultimately the county is going to have to fix the road or deal with the liabilities that result. And initial cost estimates by the Scott County Road Department are that the road would cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair — the first time, not counting the subsequent maintenance that would be required.
And for what? A road that leads through the middle of the woods, coming to an end at a creek’s edge with private property in all directions and not even enough room to turn a vehicle and head back out.
If we’re being completely honest, that hardly seems to be good stewardship of taxpayer funds.
To this point in the debate, it has been easy for County Commission to pass the buck on to the Road Department, since it is the Road Department that has deemed the road impassible and left the locked gate in place. Yet the Road Department has just as much an argument in its favor when it leaves the road closed as County Commission does in its favor when it argues ownership of the road. With several Scott County’s roads that actually serve a purpose in residential areas crumbling due to inadequate funding, County Commission has not pledged a penny of funding for the repair of the roadway. State and local governments often complain of unfunded mandates from the federal level, and an order to reopen Litton Covered Bridge Road without money for its repair would be the same thing at the local level, with the onus being placed on the Road Department.
It’s not hard to understand why many of Scott County’s citizens prefer to see the road left open. They have memories of the “old days,” when River Junction and the falls of Paint Rock Creek were popular gathering places. The old days, though, are gone, and decisions must be made based on what’s best for the county as a whole — not based on nostalgia.
There’s no compelling reason to reopen Litton Covered Bridge Road — which begs the question of why it still generates so much discussion.