County won’t declare section line open

Commissioners take no action on request; matter may head to lawsuit

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District 2 County Commissioner David Anderson

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

Canadian County Commissioners have taken no action on a request to formally declare a rural county road open.

Commissioners, at their weekly meeting Nov. 16, considered a resolution designating a portion of the section line running west from the intersection of 164th and Banner Road “open to the public.”

The request was made by Jana Knott, an attorney with Bass Law Firm, on behalf of a landowner. Knott told commissioners her client is requesting the county take official action on opening the section line to provide access across the land.

Her client now must request permission from a neighboring landowner to open a locked fence gate.

“His farmhand has to come let us in,” Knott explained.

The property owners have been in a lingering dispute that may be headed to a lawsuit because county commissioners did not want to act on a motion to open the road for public use.

Commissioners expressed hesitation about taking any action on the request, believing this matter between private landowners should be settled elsewhere.

Knott told commissioners she and her client have tried to negotiate “with the other side” all summer to no avail.

“We’ve tried just about everything to try to get this resolved amicably,” she said.

Seeking the resolution from county commissioners was the “last resort” before proceeding with legal action, the attorney noted.

District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson said Canadian County has never closed this right-of-way.

Anderson doesn’t believe commissioners need to take any action declaring the road open, referring to the Oklahoma Constitution that already designates 33 feet on both sides of a section line open to the public.

Attorney Knott responded:
“Our position is, if it’s never been open by a resolution from this body, then it actually has to be opened to the public. You don’t have to pay compensation for it … we think that you can just pass a resolution and open it.
“We’re asking that you do that. My client is willing to build the road and maintain the road without this county appropriating any funds for that because it’s such a small number of people who are going to be using it.”

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‘A LITTLE WARY’

County Commission Chairman Marc Hader, the District 1 commissioner, said he’s a “little wary” since the county already is responsible for 900-1,000 miles of section line road.

Knott said her client would sign an agreement with county commissioners to maintain the road – and this document would be filed of record so future owners understand this requirement.

But Hader was reluctant to make – or even second – a motion, referring to the “Hatfield/McCoy-ish” dispute among the parties.

Knott reiterated where this issue may be headed.

“At some point, if we can’t get this resolved, it’s going to end up in litigation,” she advised commissioners.

Knott’s client would seek a court injunction to move the gate and fence out of the middle of the section line. The attorney does not intend to bring the county into any suit.

So, Knott asked the board to vote either for or against the resolution so there would be a record for the court that shows “we’ve done everything we can, that we know of, to be able to access this property.”

But the commissioners didn’t even want to make a motion or take an “up or down vote” on the resolution.

“My issue with voting – I don’t think there’s a question,” Commissioner Anderson responded. “I believe that section line is open to the public. Unless this board has taken action in the past to close it, it is a public right-of-way.”

If commissioners voted “no” on the resolution, Anderson said this action would close the right-of-way – and he didn’t want to do that.

“I have reservations about making a motion to declare this road open to the public because the state has already done that,” Anderson emphasized. “We have the power to close. Unless we’ve closed it, I don’t think we should open it.”

The item died for lack of a motion.