HUNTSVILLE — What started by property owner J.R. Hembree on Monday as a request to have Litton Covered Bridge Road closed at his property line instead delved into a discussion by Scott County Commission as to why the old road should be reopened in its entirety.
Hembree, who owns about 120 acres of property on either side of Litton Covered Bridge Road, appeared before County Commission’s Intergovernmental Committee to request that the road be closed through his property, since it is — in effect — already closed just beyond his property.
Scott County Mayor Dale Perdue, who had spoken to Hembree prior to the start of Monday’s meeting, told commissioners that Hembree’s request was in response to the road’s closure at the entrance to property owned by Steve Howard, whose parcels of land border Hembree’s property.
The Howard property has been the subject of much consternation involving County Commission over the past two years, with the Howards first petitioning the county to close the road, then barricading the road when that petition was refused.
Scott County won a court ruling to keep the road open in 2017. As a result of that ruling, Howard surrendered a key to the gate he had placed to the Scott County Road Department. However, Road Superintendent Dick Sexton has declined to open the gate, saying that the road is impassible and that his department does not have the funds to repair it.
Once a thoroughfare from Huntsville to Winona, Litton Covered Bridge has been closed on the east side of Paint Rock Creek since the early 1980s. The portion of roadway on the west side of the creek is still on the county’s road list, though it dead-ends where the covered bridge once stood over Paint Rock Creek. It is in serious disrepair beyond the last residence, which is located at its intersection with River Junction Road.
It is near that point that Hembree’s property begins. Like Howard, Hembree owns property on both sides of the roadway.
While Hembree broached the subject at Monday’s meeting, he did not do much of the talking, instead standing at the podium and listening as commissioners discussed the merits of reopening the road.
Fourth District Commissioner Rick Russ, who is a candidate for county mayor in the August election, said that he understands Hembree’s position, but he said, “I opposed (closing the road) from the beginning, and I’ll oppose it until the end, which may not be very long from now. The bottom line is it’s a county road and it shouldn’t be closed.”
Russ declared that it is the responsibility of the road superintendent — based on the ruling in Chancery Court — to reopen the road. And, he added, “There will be a new road superintendent come fall and it’ll be his decision whether to keep the road closed.”
Sexton has opted against seeking re-election. Vying to replace him will be current Road Department supervisor Kelvin King and former road superintendent candidate Dale Boyatt.
Russ said that he was bothered by the fact that “a select number of people get keys to the gate” that was put in place “even though (the road) is impassible.”
Second District Commissioner Sam Lyles questioned whether the county would be within its legal rights to cut the lock off the gate and remove it despite the road superintendent’s discretion, saying, “I don’t know why it’s the road superintendent’s (decision) at this point.”
June Jeffers, who also represents the Second District, said the county should not wait until August to see the issue revisited, adding, “Dick’s supposed to do his job.”
Howard has argued that the road serves no purpose, because anyone who ventures off the road to access New River or Paint Rock Creek will be trespassing on his property, and the road itself dead-ends at Paint Rock Creek without a destination, other than to reach a cabin built along Paint Rock Creek by Howard and his wife.
To that end, 1st District Commissioner Blue Day objected to discussion of reopening the road at Monday’s meeting, saying the property in question is “private property,” and asking, “Where can you go once you get down there?”
Past estimates have placed the cost of fixing the road between $35,000 and $75,000. Beyond the Howard property line, in low-lying bottomland along New River, the roadway is subject to frequent flooding during heavy rainfall events.