Received today; they sent it to all the Commissioners. -jsq
To the Lowndes County Commission:
It has been quite an experience dealing with the proposed closing of a portion of County Road 16. Our quaint spot on the river in Naylor, Lowndes County is something that can easily be taken for granted, but it is something that should be treasured and appreciated by the entire county. While we have learned a rich history about Naylor and the County Road proposed to be closed, we will not encumber you with these details. We will let you know in this letter the laws and reasons why the proposal should be denied.
First off, the landowner did not legally own the land when he made his request for the closing of the road. The legal date this property was deeded to Phillip Connell is February 8, 2013. The day his request was made is unknown because the letter sent had the date whited out and is an exact copy of the September 10, 2010 letter he submitted. It is known that the proposal for a public hearing was made in the Commission meeting January 22, 2013. The county should not be hearing this proposal for being misled by Phillip Connell. Why instead is the County claiming that a legal transaction for this land occurred 2 or 3 years ago and now has extended it to 3 or 4 years ago? Where is the proof for this claim?
Second, the landowner’s claim about liability, trash and trespassing is
unwarranted. In the Georgia Recreational Statute, Title 51, Chapter 3, Article 2 owners’ liability toward persons entering thereon for recreational purposes is limited. Also, we have observed and photographed 3 other nearby areas on the Alapaha River, Lakeland, Mayday and Statenville, Naylor is the cleanest of these locations. This lower amount of trash is most likely due to the local concerned citizens who pick up trash down there. It is definitely not a result of Phillip Connell who dumped large concrete pylons on the land to attempt to block people out of an area that should have the same prescriptive easement as the rest of the road because it does not have trespassing signs on it. Phillip Connell has only owned this land since February 8, 2013. How does he know whether trespassing occurred on this land? Was he policing Dr. Acree’s land?
Third, The County needs to have access to this land and the river because the state requires that the County provide a 150 foot buffer which should be designed to protect the corridor of the river. It is stated in the Southern Georgia Regional Commission, 2011 Regionally Important Resources Plan that the Alapaha River is protected (please see attachment). In fact, there is a picture of Hotchkiss Landing (the spot on the river at the end of County Road 16) on page 59, underneath the heading of Protected River Corridors. We do know the County has a protective river corridor plan, good as of 2003. Is the County’s plan up to date and do they still have ways to implement their responsibilities after this road is closed?
Fourth, the County has a 2030 Comprehensive Plan which in its agenda refers to exactly what needs to be done in the situation we are dealing with. For example in 2.4.1 Park/Recreation/Conservation Area:
Description: Undeveloped, natural lands with significant natural features including floodplains, wetlands, watersheds, wildlife management areas and other environmentally sensitive areas not suitable for development of any kind. Development Strategy: The natural, rural character should be maintained by not allowing any new development and promoting use of conservation easements. Roadways in these areas should be widened only when absolutely necessary. Roadway alterations should be carefully designed to minimize the visual impact. These areas should be promoted for passive-use tourism and universally designed recreational destinations.
Quality Community Objectives:
1) Heritage Preservation Objective: The traditional character of the community should be maintained through preserving and revitalizing historic areas of the community, encouraging new development that is compatible with the traditional features of the community, and protecting other scenic or natural features that are important to defining the community’s character.
All of this looks great on paper but needs to be implemented. As stated in the “Law of Easements”, Georgia Civil Engineering and Surveying Land Law, November 12, 2010, Atlanta, Georgia, “Georgia joined in with other states and enacted the Uniform Conservation Easement Act in 1992, codified at OCGA 44-10-1 et seq.” “In conjunction with local governmental agencies and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Easements are a valuable tool to preserve land for future generations.” “One of the benefits of a Conservation Easement for the owner of the property, other than that they have given to the public at large, is the fact that there can be significant tax incentives for doing so. The IRS may allow for a tax deduction as a charitable contribution and Georgia law specifically contemplates that property taxes would be lower once a Conservation Easement is granted.” Why isn’t the county working with Phillip Connell to provide a conservation easement? Why would they instead propose to buy land in a different area that is undeveloped and in contradiction to the 2030 Comprehensive Plan?
Fifth, there have been many precedents set about road closings and river usage. In 1973, 231 Ga. 255 Supreme Court of Georgia, Ronald B. Griffith et al. v. C & E Builders, Inc., it was specifically upheld that:
‘Neither the General Assembly nor a subordinate public corporation acting under its authority can lawfully vacate a public street or highway for the benefit of a private individual. The street or highway can not be vacated unless it is for the benefit of the public that such action should be taken. The benefit may be either in relieving the public from the charge of maintaining a street or highway that is no longer useful or convenient to the public, or by laying out a new street or road in its place which will be more useful and convenient to the public in general. If the public interest is not the motive which prompts the vacation of the street, whether partial or entire, the act of vacation is an abuse of power, and especially would it be a gross abuse of power if it is authorized without reference to the rights of the public and merely that the convenience of a private individual might be subserved.’
It has also been uphold in courts that: “The state has a duty to maintain public access routes to rivers under certain conditions as part of its public trust duties. Courts have found it unlawful for a state to close off an existing public access route when there are not other public access routes nearby.” Will the County Commission take its duties to the public serious and deny this road closure and then work with the landowner to provide a conservation easement like the area deserves?
All the questions and statements contained in this letter are important and should be considered in the decision making process of the County Commission. It should also be considered the amount of letters, contact and signatures on the petitions that have come from the local community and surrounding areas. Let’s work together to preserve our heritage and community. Please deny the closure of .17 miles of County Road 16 leading to the Alapaha River. Thank you!