Johnson says more evidence needed in lake road lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Adams County Circuit Court Judge Forrest &uot;Al&uot; Johnson said he needs more evidence before ruling on the public vs. private status of Thornburg Lake Road.

On Monday, Johnson ruled that the Adams County Board of Supervisors must hold another hearing to see if the board could legally declare the Anna’s Bottom road as a public right-of-way. &uot;I just want to have an evidentiary basis that the county is relying on&uot; when it claims this road as public, Johnson said.

The court can then rule on the record of that hearing to make a decision, Johnson said.

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Johnson said he needed evidence proving Thornburg Lake Road was public by July 1 of this year because the county had acquired the road by &uot;prescription,&uot; or past use and maintenance. Johnson said he wanted proof the county had maintained the road before July 1.

Johnson also said the court would maintain jurisdiction of the case for the next year.

Monday’s hearing stemmed from supervisors’ 3-2 vote in June to declare Thornburg Lake Road — the only access to Thornburg Lake — open to the public.

Last week, the supervisors also removed a section of a fence in front of a boat ramp that blocked place to block public access to what is disputably a public fishing spot.

&uot;(The supervisors) are spending thousands of dollars on legal fees (for a) road they claim is public leading to nowhere,&uot;&160;said A.Vidal Davis, a landowner in the Thornburg Lake area.

Citing problems with vandalism, landowners Davis, William Johnson, Mike Mikell and Big River Farms Inc. filed suit against the supervisors this summer over their decision to keep the road public.

The plaintiffs filed their suit after a state law required&160;counties to declare all roads either public or private by July 1 of this year.

In keeping with the law, the Adams County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the status of all of its 500 plus roads roads in June including Thornburg Lake Road.

Johnson said those hearings were designed to receive public input and he needed more information for the case. &uot;Those public hearings were not set up to fully gather all the evidence one way or the other in this matter,&uot; he said.

Attorneys for the supervisors and the landowners do not agree on how the county must prove that the lake was public.

Plaintiffs attorney J.W. Seibert said Adams County has no record of declaring Thornburg Lake Road public or a record of past work on the road, so it can not declare the road public by prescription. &uot;We also think there is an issue of whether whatever maintenance was done out there was formally authorized,&uot; Seibert said.

But Bob Latham, an attorney for the Adams County Board of Supervisors, said he thinks the status of many public roads may not be documented in the board’s minutes.

&uot;These public roads go back 40, 50, 60 years&uot; and were claimed by prescription, Latham said.

If all roads had to be declared public by prescription on the record, &uot;more than half the roads on the county’s road register right now would have to be removed.&uot;