Valdosta Daily Times

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February 27, 2013

Naylor petition for Alapaha access fails

County abandons road in spite of 330 concerned citizens

VALDOSTA — A petition of 330 concerned citizens of Naylor, fighting to keep public a small piece of road that provides access to the Alapaha River, did little to affect the decision of the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners to abandon it Tuesday.

At the Jan. 22 regular meeting of the Commission, the Board determined that a .17-mile portion of Old State Road (County Road 16), from about .85 miles east of Good Hope Road (County Road 126) to the Alapaha River had ceased to be of use to the public, and that its removal from the public system was in the best public interest.

But at the Commissioner’s meeting Tuesday evening, about 10 citizens interested in the fate of the road and representing a petition of 330 in the Naylor area, told the commission otherwise.

April Huntley of Naylor delivered a stack of copies of the petition to County Clerk Paige Dukes and explained that the small road has been used as an entry point to an area of the Alapaha for baptisms and boat access for more than 100 years.

“There is public purpose,” she told the Commission. “It would be a loss to this community.”

Brett Huntley, her husband, came forward to deliver the same message, adding that it is the only access point to the Alapaha in the county.

A third citizen, Thomas Reedy, of Stockton, said he was baptized there, and that the area “is the most beautiful place in Lowndes County.”

“If we lose that access, it would be a tragedy to take it from us,” Reedy said, with tears in his eyes.

There was no one present to speak for the abandonment of the road.

Chairman Bill Slaughter delivered a statement to the citizens before opening the issue to the Board’s vote. He explained that the road lays across a portion of a county citizen’s land and is therefore owned by that citizen, and that the landowner has promised that churches that use the access point for baptisms will be allowed to continue using the road.

Slaughter added that other reports showed there could be a “possibly better” place to create an alternate entry to the Alapaha that would be more safe for citizens.

Commissioner John Page spoke on behalf of the abandonment, attempting to further explain the issue to the citizens. He prompted the County Attorney to explain that an easement has been maintained for the County to allow public access to the Alapaha via the road, but the landowner requested that it be abandoned due to safety concerns.

The County holds no title to the road, which by law belongs to the landowner.

“I just want to make it clear to the citizens that we don’t own the property,” Page said. “We had permission to use that road when there was a bridge that’s now gone.”

Commissioner Demarcus Marshall was the only one of four (Commissioner Crawford Powell was not present) to champion the issue on behalf of the citizens. In spite of his previous vote Jan. 22 that the road “serves no substantial public purpose,” he voted against the abandonment in light of the citizen’s concerns.

Still, the abandonment of the road passed 3-1, much to the chagrin of the concerned citizens.

After other business, the Huntleys returned to the podium during the Citizens to be Heard portion of the agenda to remark on the Commission’s decision.

“I don’t know that there’s much else to say,” April Huntley said. “It’s shocking that it would be closed with as much public purpose that it serves. There is less destruction to the environment, less change if we keep the road open than it would to make a new access point.”

Brett Huntley shared that he felt the Board was acting in favor of a single citizen instead of the community.

“I feel that you guys just made a decision that is an impact on our culture, and I feel that it’s a bad decision,” Huntley said. “I hope there’s some way we can turn this around. Going into a new area would spend more of the County’s money, and it’s not going to be the same.”

Huntley added the experience has prompted him to be more involved in County activities, and that he plans to engage other citizens of his age group to “know who they’re voting for.”

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