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Fayette's dirt roads: the rest of the story

Claude Paquin's picture

Please allow me to tell you “the rest of the story” about dirt roads in Fayette County.

In an Aug. 10 Citizen report on our county’s 53 miles of dirt roads allegedly maintained by the Fayette Road Department, we were told that (1) the county has $1.8 million squirreled away to pave them, (2) the county scrapes these roads and treats them with “substances to tamp down dust and stabilize the soil to provide resistance from damage caused by vehicle tires and rains,” (3) the county “needs a minimum 60-foot-wide right of way to pave any of the roads,” and (4) “a few people” have said they don’t want their road paved and have refused to give the county the right-of-way the county needs.

Let me address the minimum 60-foot-wide right of way issue first.

It is positively and absolutely preposterous to state you need 60 feet to put in a paved road, when a normal car’s width is 6 feet and a garage door’s width is 9 feet. Go measure your own car and garage door and see if that’s not the case.

It is clear that a low-speed country road with 20 feet of paving across would function quite well and allow two vehicles to cross safely in each direction.

In the days when he served as Fayette road department chief, I discussed that issue with Commissioner Lee Hearn. His contention was that trees need to be cut down, ditches built, etc., so the road may be in accordance with state road standards that would enable the county to get some state money.

When I pointed out to him that the beauty of many of these fairly short country roads is having a canopy of foliage overhead, and that paving them could be just as we find on Aberdeen Parkway or Riley Parkway in Peachtree City, with trees on the side, he had no response.

The fact of the matter is that, when it wants to, the county can pave dirt roads inexpensively. Sometime over 25 years ago, the county paved a short segment of Nelms Road, the dirt road I live on, right off Ebenezer Church Road, right up to the driveway of a local Georgia State patrolman with obvious political connections. Perhaps it was a courtesy to help him keep his State Patrol car clean.

To this day, that paving job has held up very well, which contradicts another statement often heard from county officials that paving doesn’t last long unless it is expensive.

It so happens that I bought my dirt road property in 1986 from a county commissioner, Raymon Johnson, who told me Nelms Road was scheduled to be paved. Some might say that I was dumb to believe a politician, but it so happens that Raymon Johnson did not lie to me.

About 1989 the county hired surveyors to stake the right-of-way it would need, and on Jan. 19, 1990 two county employees came to ask me to execute a right-of-way deed in consideration of one dollar (which they did not pay and which I did not ask for) and “the benefits accruing from the improvement of a roadway known as Nelms Road.” I signed it.

The neighbors I have talked with seem to have all signed the same thing, but one or two may have held out because the county wanted to straighten the road, changing its boundaries, and take more land than they were willing to give.

The county has essentially reneged on its plans and now spends money, year after year, scraping and grading the road and adding gravel. The schoolbuses, mail trucks and sheriff patrol cars that drive here get dirty from the dust or mud, while probably not improving their suspension systems, and the cycle goes on.

The people who deliver The Citizen decided long ago they would not deliver on dirt roads, so people who hate receiving in their driveway a free Citizen that could help them get local news and helpful advertising might consider moving to a dirt road.

In summary, the county’s road paving standards are extravagant, the county reneged on its commitment to pave dirt roads, most residents seem to have cooperated with the county when it acted reasonably, and the county wastes money year after year for road maintenance and has until now not had the smarts to find the obvious solution.

With property values as low as they are right now, this is definitely the right time for the county to exercise its right of eminent domain and buy out the slivers of land it might still need from the holdouts.

I fear some of our county officials may be looking for excuses to divert the $1.8 million fund now allocated for the eventual paving of dirt roads to some other purpose. Unlike the potholes in those roads after a rain storm, these excuses don’t hold water.

[Claude Y. Paquin, an occasional columnist for The Citizen is a retired lawyer and actuary and lives on a dirt road.]

Claude Y Paquin (not verified)
Claude Y Paquin's picture
Here's all the dirt on dirt roads

While a superficial look at this column would suggest it is all about dirt roads, its message is really about all the misinformation that is fed to elected officials and the public, who don't even seem aware that they are being bamboozled.

We are dealing with the same public that was bamboozled into voting for road SPLOST No. 1 and a school SPLOST to buy computers and preserve elective or enrichment courses and teachers' jobs. By the time road SPLOST No. 2 came up for a vote in November 2009, the public finally saw the light and voted NO. It takes a while.

Observe how, until I did it, no one questioned the statement that a 60-foot right-of-way is needed to pave a road that has, for years, had a width of at most 20 feet. (I went out and measured.) The public already has an easement over that, by prescription, from years of use.

We are told that "a few people" would not grant the right-of-way easement the county wants. How many exactly is "a few"? Where are they located? Who precisely are they? How long has it been since they last were asked? Have the owners changed since then? What exactly were they asked to give up? What did the county tell them it planned to do?

I have been told the right-of-way easement alongside the road is needed in part for utilities. Don't the utilities already have easements to service the properties alongside the dirt roads? These are not new subdivisions: people already have poles that carry electricity, phone and cable signals, and in some cases they have pipes for county water and natural gas, none of which would have been put down without an easement from the owners.

The way to have a dirt road, for those who like having them, is to have a large rural property with a long winding driveway that you leave unpaved. Mail carriers, school bus drivers, sheriff's deputies, ambulances and fire trucks do not have to drive on those on a regular basis, and the county does not have to fix them.

No one has yet asked how the county got to squirrel away $1.8 million to pave dirt roads, how long the money has sat there unused, and why it has not been used sooner. As investments earn almost zero interest right now, the money would be better invested in paving dirt roads and avoiding the expense of regrading them after every major storm. That would also create employment at a time when our economy needs it.

The real message here is that citizens must learn to challenge public officials' statements, and so should newspaper reporters and editors.

sevets2000
sevets2000's picture
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Joined: 06/15/2006
Dirt Roads

I own property here in Fayette County served by a very well-maintained dirt road; I really don't have a problem with it, it was dirt when I bought and it's still dirt today. I also own a farm in Hancock County, GA (one of the poorest counties in the USA)- the dirt roads there are in terrible shape; in fact, my brother and I maintain them ourselves with our own tractors because that is just the way it is. My advice: don't complain too much; we've got it good here whether it's paved or not.

Person from Brooks
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Joined: 01/10/2007
Dirt Roads

If you dont like the water dont buy a lake house. If you dont like the industrial park dont buy in Plantera. If you dont the mountains dont move to Gatlinburg. If you dont like the beach dont buy a beach front condo in Florida. Need I say anything else?