Dispute over right-of-way may lead to loss of funds for road repair
by Laura Camper
Sep 20, 2013 | 5155 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A stretch of Cleburne County Road 10 from its intersection with Alabama 46 to about 4 miles southwest is scheduled for much-needed improvement. Photo by Laura Camper.
A stretch of Cleburne County Road 10 from its intersection with Alabama 46 to about 4 miles southwest is scheduled for much-needed improvement. Photo by Laura Camper.
RANBURNE - A stretch of Cleburne County Road 10 from its intersection with Alabama 46 to about 4 miles southwest is scheduled for much-needed improvement.

But officials say the federal funding allocated to get the job done is in danger because some property owners along the road are fighting repeated requests to remove their property from county right-of-way.

Joe Farlow, 40, received the requests. But his long stretch of fence and steel cattle crossing, which corrals his 100 head of cattle, would cost thousands of dollars to move, he says. He’s not even sure how much, Farlow said.

Farlow’s been asked to move the fencing from 3 feet to 5 feet farther back from the road along a 350- to 400-yard stretch on both sides of County Road 10, he said. Farlow said he’s not doing it.

“It’s going to cost too much money,” he said.

Besides, he said, that fencing has been there since he was a kid and his father owned the farm. Why have they waited so long to request removal? Farlow asked.

Down the road, Esther Laney has lived on the road for 50 years.

Even before moving to her current house, she lived along the road and she and her late husband raised cattle and cotton. When she moved there, County Road 10 was just a dirt road that meandered along, she said. When the county paved it decades ago, it “rearranged” the road and some of the land where she already had fencing became county right-of-way.

Now, the county needs the fence and other encroachments moved so it can widen, repair and repave the road. When Laney received a letter asking her to move her fence, she did.

“It’s no problem for us,” Laney said. “We moved the fence because it’s the county’s road. I want the road paved.”

She declined to say how much it cost her.

The county must spend the money allocated to this road project by April 2014 or risk losing it, said Shannon Robbins, Cleburne County engineer. The county receives an annual allotment of $533,000 in federal funds to do road work, Robbins said. The money is distributed to the county by the Alabama Department of Transportation for approved projects and requires a 20 percent match from the county. This project requires more than one year’s funding, between $750,000 and $850,000, so the county had two fiscal years to do it, Robbins said.

All the paperwork and the planning are done, but as long as the encroachments remain, ALDOT won’t release the money, Robbins said. The encroachments vary from fencing to mailboxes to sign posts. Some would be easy to remove, others would be difficult, he said.

“If this was a normal year, I’d be in a panic,” Robbins said.

But this year, the county is also working on bridge projects, he said. The county can spend some of the money on the bridge projects and use the reimbursements to do the road project a little later, Robbins said.

The commission approved the County Road 10 project along with a stretch of road on County Road 11 three years ago because of the conditions of the roads and the amount of traffic on them, he said. The roads were to be widened, patched, repaved and the shoulders widened and lined with gravel, Robbins said. County Road 11 was finished about a year and a half ago, Robbins said. But the County Road 10 project has been held up 9 months to a year by the encroachments, he added. As of Thursday, 13 households had not removed their property from the county’s right of way, Robbins said.

The county does have the option of removing the encroachments with county staff and putting a lien on the property for reimbursement, said Doug Ghee, county attorney. If the encroachment is fencing corralling animals, the county could also replace it, he said.

“We don’t intend to jeopardize the public by taking a fence and letting cows run loose,” Ghee said.

The liens would have to be paid before the property could be sold or any other type of change of ownership could be made, Ghee said. In addition, the liens would draw interest and penalties if not paid in a timely manner, he said.

Robbins said he and Ghee are preparing to send out a final round of letters to the remaining households with encroaching property. The letters will have a “drop-dead date,” which has not yet been determined, to remove the property. After that, the county will step in, Robbins said.

“Cleburne County has not done this before that I know of,” Ghee said. “And they would rather not do it now.”

But the county doesn’t want to risk the funding and the safety of all those who use the road, he added.

Farlow said he didn’t want to talk about what he might or might not do if the county threatened to do the work itself and place a lien against his property.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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