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Road abandonment debate continues

WINDSOR – The debate continues.

Over the past several months, the Bertie Board of Commissioners have listened to the pros and cons of abandoning Shipyard Landing Road, located just off NC 45 in the southeastern part of the county. That road (RP 1531) accesses Cashoke Creek, a body of water that is a tributary of Batchelor Bay.

Ricky Hughes, who owns the land on both sides of the road, favors the abandonment of the dead-end road, one listed as only two-tenth’s of one-mile in length. Meanwhile, two Bertie citizens, Beth White and Terry Pratt, are opposed to the measure.

The families of White and Pratt each operate “fish houses” that extend into what is termed as the “submersible areas” of the property. In essence, that terminology means that Hughes does not have clear ownership of the fish houses since they extend out into the water.

White, who attended Monday’s public hearing regarding the issue, is concerned that if the road is abandoned, Hughes would close that avenue of access to the water.

The issue before the Board is to approve a request to be sent to the North Carolina Department of Transportation who, in turn, would abandon the road. If DOT abandons the road, the property on which it sits would transfer to Hughes.

However, Board members, since this issue first surfaced, have expressed concern over closing public access to a waterway. They directed Board attorney Lloyd Smith to research if the DOT’s right-of-way extended all the way to the water. In the meantime, Hughes insisted the right-of-way stopped where the pavement ended, approximately 50-to-75 feet from the waterline.

White, whose family has a year-to-year verbal lease with Hughes to access the fish houses through his property, revealed a framed 1938 map of Bertie County. She pointed to the line representing Shipyard Landing Road, stating, in her opinion, the line went all the way to the water.

Jonathan Huddleston, assistant Board attorney, said, upon viewing the map, it appeared to him that the line, representing the road, appeared to have a break prior to reaching the water.

“I can’t say for sure how many feet are represented in the break in that line,” Huddleston said. “It depends upon the scale on which the map was drawn.”

Board Chairman Rick Harrell said the findings obtained by Smith from DOT revealed that the state’s right-of-way ended before the road reached the water.

“DOT said they didn’t claim anything past where the pavement currently ends,” Huddleston said.

Harrell said it has been the Board’s contention throughout this ongoing debate that they had a problem cutting off public access to a public waterway. However, if it was proven that the road ended prior to reaching the water, that was another issue altogether.

“We don’t have anything to do with roads,” Harrell stressed. “All we can do is make a request to DOT to abandon a road if we feel it is in the best interest of the citizens of Bertie County. We are not dealing with anything else in this issue but the road n period.”

County Manager Zee Lamb said any other claims on that property outside the boundaries of the road would have to be considered as a civil action.

Still, opponents of the possible abandonment are concerned that Hughes will close the road.

“Shipyard Landing Road benefits the public,” said Andrew Ownby, a Merry Hill resident who stated he uses the road quite frequently to gain access to the water for fishing purposes. “People from all over the county use that road so they can fish. I feel he (Hughes) will close the road.”

Harrell disagreed with Ownby’s assumption that Hughes will close the road.

“The opportunity for individuals to purchase and develop property is not our business,” Harrell noted. “However, Mr. Hughes has assured me and assured the public that he will not close the road.”

Hughes said he was willing not to close road. He added that he was planning to develop an area near the water as a parking lot and put in two boat ramps. He is also considering opening a canoe rental business.

“Are you willing to put that in writing,” Commissioner Norman Cherry Sr. asked in regards to not closing the road.

“Yes, but I will permit access only during daylight hours,” Hughes answered.

White chimed in by saying that many commercial fishermen, those using the fish houses, often times do not come back in from a day of fishing until after sunset.

“How will they leave if the gate is locked,” she asked.

Another county resident, Alvin Basnight, spoke during the 37-minute public hearing. He encouraged the County Commissioners not to request that DOT abandon the road.

Following the close of the public hearing, Cherry said, “I’m not ready to deny public access to that road based on the comments I’ve heard tonight.”

Commissioner Wallace Perry suggested the Board, “take the public comments heard tonight under advisement.”

The Board, following Perry’s suggestion, took no action on the proposal. They will re-address the issue during an upcoming meeting.