Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

County will not vacate dirt road

Couple asks to vacate portion of 223rd Street, but board says public still needs it
By Jon Gilrain, Ledger correspondent | May 01, 2018

The Jefferson County Supervisors met Monday to discuss hiring in four county departments, approve an application renewal for Fairfield’s Cultural and Entertainment District and discuss policy regarding the county’s nuisance property ordinance.

A public hearing was also held about vacating a portion of 223rd St.

The board approved hiring a new correctional officer in the sheriff’s office, Robert Dale Stidham. Also approved were Matt Dorothy, a part-time hire for the County Conservation Department, Melissa Fowler to the auditor’s office and Keaton Phillips to the secondary roads department.

 

Road department

County Engineer Scott Cline gave a report on road department activities over the past week including blading, dust control and related permitting and culvert work on 195th Street west of Umber Avenue Concrete patching was done in Libertyville and on Pleasant Plain Road.

As previously reported in The Ledger, this construction project became the site of an automobile incident in the early hours of April 26 when a University Park resident ignored warning signs and attempted to circumvent barricades. The vehicle went down a creek bed striking an embankment and doing an estimated $6,000 in damage to the car.

Cline showed the board pictures of the work area and the damaged vehicle.

“We took pictures of the barricade that’s up and the work-ahead sign and we had orange fence up. She drove around the barricade, but over the orange fence and between the equipment that was on the road,” he related.

 

Vacating dirt road

A second public hearing was held about vacating a problematic section of 223rd Street. After discussion with residents Andrew and Sandy Fiedler, the board decided not to take any action. The board considered the dirt road to be a vital connector for the county and let the issue die by lack of a motion for a third hearing.

The request to vacate the portion of road came from a petition by the Fiedlers who live along the stretch and have seen numerous motorists get stuck in the mud, particularly in bad weather. The roadway changes from gravel to dirt and while required signage is in place, most non-local drivers seem to miss the warnings and are taken by surprise at the dramatic change in road quality.

During the first hearing on April 2, the Fiedlers recounted using their tractor many times and at all hours to assist the stranded drivers. While not required to do so, they have not turned anyone away despite the frequent imposition. Over time, they heard the consistent story that out-of-town drivers were being routed down this road by their GPS systems.

“It is a convenience for some people, but for us it is a quality of life thing,” Sandy Fiedler said.

In the end, however, the board considered the use of the road as a thruway for local and farm traffic and also that it is part of the county trail system. They also cited calls taken from county residents asking not to close the road, and that only the Fiedlers wished to close it. Once a road is vacated, it becomes private property and the act cannot be easily reversed.

“We try to let people know what’s going on so we don’t just pull the rug out from under people’s feet. Unless I hear something different at today’s meeting, I’m not going to close that road because I think the road is of use. It was built for a purpose and it’s still being used for that purpose,” said supervisor Dick Reed.

 

Nuisance properties

The subject of nuisance properties and enforcement of the related ordinance has become a topic for regular discussion for the board in recent months.

While no action is yet planned, Monday’s meeting saw in broad strokes the acknowledgment of needing a more consistent policy for enforcement.

Current enforcement of the nuisance ordinance is done in reaction to complaints by residents rather than by active policing. Supervisor Lee Dimmitt expressed the board’s discomfort with the current policy.

“I find it very inconsistent that we require one neighbor to mitigate their circumstance while ignoring another simply because we didn’t have a complaint. The ordinance doesn’t speak to complaint, and if we are in that neighborhood and we see a problem on another property, I don’t think it’s incumbent on us to wait until there’s another complaint,” said Dimmitt.

“Here’s what I have learned,” began supervisor Dee Sandquist. “This has been a struggle not only with our county, but with other counties as well. Where do you draw the line? I think we need to figure out what makes sense for our county and I think health and safety is probably the highest priority.”

In its pursuit of crafting and acting on a fair policy with the lightest touch possible, the county may engage the services of Regional Utility Service Systems, a governmental entity composed of seven counties including Jefferson that assists counties with solving rural problems.

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