Highway committee gets to the root of road problems

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A poet once said, "There is nothing so lovely as a tree ..." but Carter County Highway Committee members are not necessarily inclined to agree, especially when the tree is buckling pavement on a county road.
   Members voted Wednesday to get to the root of some road problems by referring matters to County Attorney George Dugger for research.
   Committee member Jerry Pearman told the group that he has been approached by residents regarding a tree which is rooting its way under the pavement at Bowers Street and Central Drive. Assistant Road Superintendent Jim Slemp told the group that he, too, had received calls from school bus drivers who say the tree is presenting a traffic hazard.
   "It's not a huge tree," Slemp said, however, the roots are "kicking up the road."
   Committee members discussed the possibility of removing the tree, however, Slemp said, "The lady that owns it doesn't have any trouble telling you that you'd better not touch it. ... If you go up there and take it out, get you a lawyer.
   "The roots are up in the road, but you cannot go down there and cut those roots without killing the tree. If it kills that tree, you're responsible for it."
   Pearman said he already had received a call from the woman's attorney. "He called me and he said she wants that tree there to keep a car from going off into her house."
   Committee Chairman Buford Peters said the group should refer the issue to the county attorney. "If George thinks it's a safety hazard to the public, then we go on his advisement."
   Trees also appear to be a stumbling block on Hardin Hollow Road. Resident Estel Perkins said, "The road committee came up in December and recommended my road be fixed. Nothing's been done and I was just wondering why."
   Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins said he has been unable to work on the road because of an ongoing logging operation.
   "They said they would pull out at any time that he wanted to work on the road and they would take the trees down for him, and I don't believe these people lied to me," Estel Perkins told the group. "I just wonder what the hold-up is."
   "I told you what the hold-up is," the highway superintendent said. Perkins said he had his entire road crew ready to go in one Monday morning to widen the road, however, they encountered the loggers.
   "They said they would pull out any time that you were willing to come in there and do something to the road," Estel Perkins said. "That's all I've got to say."
   No action was taken.
   Residents of Skyline Drive brought a jurisdictional issue to the table. Charlie Mattioli, who lives at the end of Skyline Drive, formerly known as Highland Drive, produced documents showing the gravel road had been adopted as a public road by the county commission in July 1981 during J.W. Street's administration. However, he said, it has not been maintained by the highway department.
   "I called the office over here asking about the road because we've had some wash-outs and problems like that, and they said it wasn't a county road," Mattioli said. As a result, residents have chipped in about $2,000 over the last six years to replace gravel and repair the road.
   "I've got a copy of this document here that says that the road was accepted as Highland Road back in 1981. I was just wondering why it wasn't taken care of; why they thought it wasn't a county road if that was the case?" Mattioli said.
   Assistant Superintendent Slemp said the road has never been worked. "I've been out there and looked at it. It never was on our road list. It's not on the road list now."
   Another Skyline resident said, "I'm in shock. I thought all we had to do was present this and it was just an oversight." He said he believed he could produce people who actually had worked the road in the past.
   According to county records produced by Mattioli, the disputed road is 1,387 feet long by 18 feet wide. At the time the county commission declared it an open public road, landowners in the area agreed to donate through quit-claim deeds enough land to widen the road to 30 feet. Highway committee members questioned whether that actually had been done and voted to refer the matter to the county attorney for further research.
   "We could also go and look up the other roads in the book and see how they were treated and then we go back to square one -- equal treatment under the law," Mattioli said.
   "We have to go on whatever George Dugger tells us," Peters said. "If he says it's a county road, then it's a county road. ... We'll get back with you."
   County Commissioner Joe Woods told the committee that he had a signed petition asking that the speed limit be lowered from 35 mph to 25 mph on Slagle Road. "It's one lane. You cannot pass on the road. Also, Reynolds Road is the same way," Woods said.
   Pearman said he had received a similar request from Reynolds Road residents and also asked that the limit be lowered on Central Drive.
   The committee approved a recommendation to lower the speed limit on all three roads and voted to send the matter to the county commission for consideration. The commission meets again at 10 a.m. June 24.