By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – A road dispute on County Road 161 could be headed to court after Fletcher Fly presented Yalobusha Supervisors with a complaint alleging that the county took the road without compensating him. With Fly was his attorney, Stewart Guernsey of Water Valley.
The dispute surfaced in March after several landowners who use County Road 161 complained to supervisors that Fletcher Fly had constructed a cabin in the road right-of-way – an action they defined as trying to block access to their property.
On March 20, Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors Attorney John Crow sent Fly a letter requesting that the building be removed within 15 days. Fly owns 160.2 acres through which the road passes.
In August, after Fly had not complied, two families who use the road to access their property came back to supervisors asking for help.
At the meeting one of the landowners, Benny Walker, said his family and another, the LaGrasses, had been harassed for years by Fly.
The road ownership dispute can actually trace its origins back to a July 1, 1998 state law requiring all supervisors to adopt an official map designating and defining all public roads in each of Mississippi’s counties. Many of these roads had been maintained for decades by the county, however the counties did not actually own them.
In conjunction with that 1998 law, a public hearing was held on May 25, 2000, allowing citizens to voice opinions on certain roads in the county. Fly did not attend and seven-tenths of County Road 161 was taken in under the county’s umbrella. It is within that stretch that the cabin sits.
“This road was taken by the county even though it was a private road at all times,” Guernsey said Monday after he and Fly met with supervisors in executive session.
Prior to the meeting’s closure to the public, Guernsey told supervisors that he would like to present a citizen’s complaint.
When questioned by Crow, Guernsey confirmed that the complaint also served as a statutory notice of claim – an action required before the county could be sued.
At this point Crow told supervisors it would be appropriate to go into executive session as the issue clearly was a threat of litigation.
“The center of this issue is whether Fletcher Fly’s private road is currently used for public use,” Guernsey said told the Herald after the meeting.
Adding the road to the 2000 Official Road Registry was characterized as “land grab” by the county, Guernsey said.
Now Guernsey said his client is asking the county to abandon what has turned back into a private road.
“There is no public use, no public necessity,” Guernsey said. “The road benefits two families and a limited group of hunters,” the attorney continued.
“This road was taken by the county even though it was a private road at all times,” Guernsey continued
Guernsey said similar cases were popping up across the state and courts were uniformly saying that you can’t grab private roads – although he added that the courts were making determinations on a case-by-case basis. He has filed a similar case in Grenada County.
Fly claims did he did not know that County Road 161, which travels through his property, had not been taken over by the county until 2003 when the county worked on the road. Fly also claims that he has paid taxes on the entire 160.2 acres, which would include the portion of the property where the road is situated.
“They were skeptical,” Guernsey said of supervisors’ response to Fly’s complaint in the Monday meeting. Because of a procedural issue with the complaint, Guernsey said he was told to re-file the complaint.
“We will have this same discussion again,” Guernsey said.
The original complaint alleges that the county holds the road by inverse condemnation, and that the county’s actions violated Fly’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
In the complaint Fly is also asking for $5,000 compensation from the county plus an estimated $2,500 in attorney fees. The complaint also asks for the board to articulate its claim to the road.
The amended complaint will ask specifically for the county to abandon the road, according to Guernsey.
“We put the monetary requests in the complaint in case we have to litigate,” Guernsey said.
Beat Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman told the Herald that he had worked for the county since 1977.
“Former supervisors Richard Ross and Danny Barton worked the road,” Tillman recalled.
“It has always been a public road,” Tillman added. He also said that Tillatoba Water Association has a water pipe on the road right-of-way.
“There are two cabins down there,” Tillman said. “This road is being used by the public at all times.”