BLAIR — After nearly six months of protest, the paving of Chinook Drive seems imminent.
Sanders Brothers construction company has parked paving machines across from the entrance of the .8-mile long driveway that has four residents.
Val Green and Robert Shull have protested the paving of the driveway, citing the county does not have a prescriptive easement. Fairfield County Council chairman David Ferguson said the county does have the right to pave the road because it has maintained the road for over 20 years giving them prescriptive easement.
Even with the legal right to pave Chinook Drive, Ferguson noted that roads are ranked and given priority points by a formula created by County Transportation Committee (CTC). According to Ferguson, the county’s only role has been to approve the CTC formula by which roads are ranked. CTC members are appointed by the state representative (Mary Gail Douglas) and the state senator (Creighton Coleman).
“The county doesn’t OK the roads and we don’t OK to pay the bills,” he stated. “I don’t have that right, I don’t have that jurisdiction nor do I have that power. The CTC comes up with a formula and we vote on it, that’s it.”
The formula was recently redone and Chinook Drive is the final road to be paved according to a formula from six years ago. Chinook was higher in priority, but due to protests it is the final road remaining on the previous list.
Ferguson stated that there are residents on the road that do want it paved, and regardless of the amount of land owned every land owner (with residence or not) has the same amount of rights when it comes to the road.
He went on to explain that if the homeowners didn’t want the county to maintain the road they should have protested the first day the county dumped rocks on the road.
“If the road is on the prescriptive easement map then it does not matter what those home owners say,” Ferguson noted. “If the county has been spending tax money on the road for the past 20 years then they (residents) don’t have a say. The fact of the matter is is that the county has the right to treat a road because it has a prescriptive easement and our legal department says we have the right to do it. Now, I’m not happy that not everybody is happy about it, but we’re doing what is legal and fair.”
Green’s protest has led him to hire a lawyer in hopes of filing a restraining order against Sanders Brothers Construction to prevent the paving. A temporary injunction would last 10 days and then a hearing would be held for a judge to decide if the injunction would be come permanent.
The main defense to prevent the paving is riding on an opinion of the Attorney General when it comes to specific powers granted. Green quoted a law from the South Carolina Forestry Management Protection Act out of the South Carolina Association of Counties Home Rule Workbook, which says that a property used primarily for forestry is preempt from county laws including the regulation of roads.
“What that means is that they cannot stop us from using skidders, logging equipment and crossing road,” Green said. “They (county council) don’t have the right to call it a public or county road because it is a forestry road.”
According to CTC chairman David Williams, the county engineering consultant Bill Coleman spoke with national park representatives and although the forestry commission did not lobby to have Chinook Drive paved, they would like for it to be paved because it will be easier to move their fire equipment onto the land.
Williams believes the CTC’s formula and program is in place to benefit the county’s citizens.
“This formula is very fair and balanced for the people of Fairfield County,” he said.
After Green and Shull protested during a CTC meeting, the committee unanimously decided to continue with the paving of Chinook Drive.
At press time the paving superintendent for Sanders Brothers Construction, Jeff Betcher, was unavailable for comment.