MOULTRIE — The county commission backed off of a Thursday deadline to begin eminent domain proceedings against some land owners along a small canopy dirt road.

Several people who own land along Wilburn Murphy Road came before the board, armed with a petition and declared they’d rather see the road closed than lose their old growth canopy or have their property gutted by the extra-wide rights-of-way the government is requiring with this $1.356 million federal aid project. The project would replace a bridge and culvert plus pave and grade 1,000 feet of road extending from both sides. Now, the board is waiting on word from the state transportation department to better assess the next step.

The project lies within Commissioner Joe Clark’s district. Clark said he approached the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) to try to get a variance on rights-of-way down to 80 feet. He was promised one, he said, but he hasn’t gotten the variance in writing yet. Clark suggested that the board hold off until the county gets a response from the state then meet with property owners. But if at that time the land owners balked, he wanted to go ahead with property condemnation, noting that the project already has been delayed because of environmental studies and that another federal aid project — this one $1.489 million — is set to proceed southeast of Doerun on the Hagins Still Road crossing the Ochlockonee River. His motion died for lack of a second.

“It’s just one of those woodsy little places that will be totally destroyed if they put a state road right-of-way through there,” said land owner Wendell Allegood as he sought reconsideration of the board.

“It’s a paved road connecting three dirt roads,” he said, shaking his head at what he considers an illogical waste of money and property.

If paved, the county eventually would have to come back and finish out the paving to meet Bay-Rockyford and Kendallwood Church roads, he said.

Colquitt County Roads and Bridges Superintendent Charles Weathers again noted that the project was proposed in 1994 to be put on the federal replacement list primarily because the bridge and culvert need to be fortified to a 10-ton weight limit. Weathers is concerned that the Georgia Department of Transportation will close the bridge at its next inspection.

“This don’t make sense. I know the DOT is holding this $1.3-million carrot out there, but sometimes you just don’t need that kind of development, as it were,” Allegood said.

Only five families now live along the little dirt road, but Clark informed those at the meeting that plans are in the works for a subdivision to be built extending from Lower Meigs Road back to Wilburn Murphy Road. At that, disapproving mutterings came from the audience.

Kristy Suber, who with her husband, Craig, own an acre along the road, distributed photographs of the road and the survey stakes in the middle of her front yard. She’s not only upset by the project decimating the value of her home but also that paving and straightening that segment of the road would create a drag strip literally at her front door, she said. Already, the dirt road is a back route for drunk drivers, especially on the weekends, she said, noting the number Craig has pulled out of the ditch over the years.

The land owners told commissioners they had been surprised some months back by survey stakes appearing in their property when they didn’t permit anyone access. Suber said she had to take off work to meet an appraiser who went through her entire house documenting her possessions, but in the end, she and her husband were offered only land value based on $5,000 per acre.

Suber also vented to the board that she called the roads department many times but never got a call back. The Subers wanted to know the details of the project and the appraisal of their home but were denied, she said. They were told, she said, they would have to sign over their property first to get that information

“If people would come out and try to talk to people rather than dealing behind their backs, you might get along a little better with projects like this,” land owner James Knox said. “... This is our property. It’s not the federal government’s. It’s time for people to stand up and buck some of these regulations. You want all this land, but the county cannot maintain the rights-of-way now.”

Several land owners along the road have signed over their property for rights-of-way acquisition. Colquitt County District 3 candidate Terry Clark was one of them, but the right-of-way takes only a sliver of his property along the road. Clark said he doesn’t have any issue closing the road at the bridge. Another resident signed over his right-of-way on the condition that his 200-foot oak tree wouldn’t be harmed, but, as it stands now, the tree will have to be removed, Allegood said.

The land owners opposing the federal project think flooding could be remedied by installing a large culvert and raising the road bed. It would cost a tenth of what the proposed project would cost taxpayers, Allegood said.

Regarding the state’s requirement of bridges to hold 10 tons for school bus passage, the residents countered that no children ride school buses along that road, that Little Creek is the dividing line between the Funston and Hamilton elementary school districts and there are alternate routes avoiding the wooden bridge. In addition, Knox remembered that an old culvert was covered up about two decades ago by the county. A weight limit was never set on it, he said, and there’s been no mention of the culvert since.

Other problems associated with the project include having to shorten Knox’s center irrigation pivot, moving the Subers’ septic tank and cutting off water supply to a house and a horse field where Allegood boards rodeo horses, he said, resulting in an added expense of digging a well.

“They certainly didn’t include enough money in their offer for me to consider that,” he said.

Allegood also brought the horses’ owner, Susan York, who told commissioners that she would have to go through an added expense and aggravation to relocate her animals.

Although environmental studies have cleared the area for construction, Allegood said the paving project would destroy habitat of gopher tortoise, woodpecker, alligator and the rare pitcher plant.

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