Hancock County Board says Ridge Road is county road; Gate must be removed
Butch Merrifield addresses the Hancock County Board of Supervisors
Yesterday’s hearing held by the Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Ridge Road lasted just over one hour and the outcome will require the gate on the Hancock County side of the road to be removed.
Board Attorney Gary Yarborough mediated the hearing. The Board heard extensive views from both sides of the issue; those opposed to opening the road for public access as well as those asking for the gates to be removed.
Prior to hearing any discussion from either side of the issue, Yarborough informed the board that his findings were that Ridge Road was still a county road.
Yarborough stated “A review of past years of minutes for the Board of Supervisors does not show any record of abandonment nor a public hearing to abandon the road being held, therefore Ridge Road is a county road in the county road system”
Hancock County Road Manager Johnson told the board that Ridge Road was on the 1997 registry and map as a county road, but not on the 2003 or any registry thereafter.
Johnson stated, “I have a record here from a 1978 Board meeting with a registered letter stating that Houston Frierson was told to remove the gates he had placed on Ridge Road.”
Kevin McDonald, a landowner along Ridge Road in Hancock County, told the Board that he owned land on both sides of the road and was asking for the gates to remain. McDonald asked the Board “What would happen if Ridge Road was to be opened on the Hancock side, but not on the Pearl River County side? Would it become a dead end road?”.
Attorney Yarborough replied, “The Pearl River County side is not in our jurisdiction.”
Kim Lee, Larry Frierson’s daughter, addressed the board and stated, “We would like to keep the road closed off due to littering along the road and vandalism that has occurred on our equipment. We maintain the road and have for many years.”
Lee also said that she has no problem with anyone who has land on Ridge Road to have a key to the gates and had recently given a key to Keith Frierson, son of Ridge Road landowner Irma Frierson.
Irma Frierson, who wants the gates removed, addressed the Board stating,
“We purchased property in the 1950s on Ridge Road. Today, I have a letter here from numerous people who want the gates down so we can access our property and use the land for picnics and other things. I don't think I should have to get out of my car and use a key to get to my land."
When her son, Keith Frierson, addressed the board, he told the board that Kim Lee did give him a key three weeks ago. He added that many years ago his father gave Larry Frierson permission to build a pavilion near a well on his property to use for his hunting club.
Frierson then posed a question to the Board, ‘Did anyone give permission to put the gates up? If no one did, then the gates ought to come down."
Attorney Yarborough replied, "The county (Hancock) did not authorize and the U.S. government did not either."
Boyd "Butch" Merrifield, who has been the most vocal advocate for having the gates removed, told the Board that he was recently told that Pearl River County had received funds to develop a plan to enhance or build a road from Hwy 43 to Texas Flat Road and he thinks it would make sense to use the existing path of Ridge Road rather than construct a brand new road. Merrifield added that he thinks the gates should be removed allowing access for property owners as well anyone who wants to use Ridge Road to get to Texas Flat Road instead of using highway 607.
Lavern Lott, a Hancock County Deputy, spoke to the board on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department and stated "there are already a lot of calls and problems in the area and if the gates are removed, the problems (vandalism and litter) will likely increase by a tremendous amount."
Lott added that batteries from the heavy equipment are stolen regularly and vandalism is rampant as well.
After hearing from both sides, Yarborough told the board it needed to decide two things:
First- whether to make a motion to whether or not to update the 2003, 2011, and 2013 board minutes to include Ridge Road on the road registry in order to update the county maps. The board made a motion and voted unanimously to take that action.
Second- either decide to abandon the road or take no action and leave Ridge Road as a public county road. The Board did not make a motion which meant that Ridge Road is still a county road and the gate constructed by Larry Frierson on the Hancock County side must come down.
Even though the Hancock County Board has acted to keep Ridge Road as a public road, the gate installed by on the Pearl River County end of the road is not in their jurisdiction and will be up to the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors if that gate is to come down.
In an earlier discussion with the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors, they told Merrifield the section of Ridge Road in Pearl River County was not a county road and the County did not see where it needed to be involved with a decision as it felt the matter was between the landowners.