Livingston Parish judge to decide whether King George Bay Road is public or private _lowres

Photo provided by GoogleMaps -- King George Road

King George Bay Road existed before Livingston Parish was founded, but a Tennessee couple has asked a state court judge to declare part of the road their private property.

Calvin and Brenda Howell, of Boliver, Tennessee, contend in a lawsuit filed against the parish earlier this month that the only public portion of King George Road, also known as King George Bay Road, is the 7,587 feet of asphalt connected to La. 444 north of French Settlement. The remaining mile or so of gravel and dirt path that leads to the bank of King George Bayou is private property, the Howells said.

But witnesses for the parish testified in a hearing Thursday that the public has used the road to access the bayou for nearly two centuries and that the parish had maintained the entire stretch of road for at least several decades.

Chief Judge Bob Morrison, of the 21st Judicial District, gave the attorneys two weeks to sum up their arguments in writing before he hands down a decision in the case.

Calvin Howell said evidence of any semblance of a road stops at his property line, which is several hundred feet beyond where the asphalt ends and the gravel and dirt begin.

He said his 161-acre tract, which fronts the bayou and is divided by the gravel and dirt path, has become a dumping ground for trespassers and game poachers who cross his property to reach the water. He erected a gate across the path at this property line in October to eliminate the problems, but parish officials took down his gate two months later, he said.

Howell and other landowners along the gravel and dirt part of the road said they petitioned the parish in 2012 to accept the nonasphalt part of the road into the public maintenance system but were refused by a councilman.

Laura Poche, a St. Amant resident who inherited 15 acres along the dirt road about five years ago, said the road is “always rutted up,” and the landowners wanted the parish to repair the road and help stop the illegal dumping.

Poche said Parish Councilman Ronnie Sharp, whose district includes the road, told her the gravel and dirt section was private property and the parish would not take responsibility for it.

A list of parish roads the council adopted in 2002 lists King George Road as including only 7,587 feet of blacktop, but an expert witness for the parish said that list included many errors. Older documents, including road surveys and township plats, indicate the full length of the path was considered a public road, said Eddie Aydell, chief engineer for Alvin Fairburn & Associates, which consulted on the parish’s road overlay program from 1997 to 2010.

Aydell showed the court an 1829 plat of the French Settlement township that shows a “Path to Bayou King George” in the same location as the current King George Bay Road. That makes the road at least three years older than the parish itself, which was founded in 1832.

“The road has been used by the public since before Livingston Parish existed,” Aydell said.

Aydell, who caught his first fish in King George Bayou and bought property along the road in 1997, said the parish has maintained the road “continuously,” including digging roadside ditches all the way to the bayou.

Howell and other landowners disputed that contention Thursday, testifying that although they saw occasional evidence of tree trimming, grass cutting, road grading and one or more dumps of gravel on the dirt path, they did not believe the parish had maintained the road. Some of the gravel near the bayou was placed there by a movie production crew a decade ago, Howell said.

Three parish Department of Public Works employees testified that the road had been regularly maintained for decades, dating back at least to the late 1980s.

Aydell said the entire road was gravel until the 1970s, when the state Department of Transportation and Development helped the parish pave about a mile of the 2.5-mile roadway. The rest of the blacktop was poured around 2002, Aydell said.

The asphalt stops where it does — at the driveway of the last residence on the road — because parish officials decided that paving the rest was a lower priority than other road projects in the parish, Aydell said.

“People have used this road continuously, and I have used this road continuously, without interference, for years until the fence was put up in October 2014 at the Howells’ property line,” Aydell testified.

Mark Thomas, who owns the last residence on the blacktop part of the road, said he had put up a gate in May 2013, trying to curb the illegal dumping, but he gave the lock combination to Aydell, members of a hunting club and others he trusted to allow them unrestricted access all the way to the bayou. Thomas’ gate also was removed in December.

Thomas testified that without the gate, “It’s 24/7 back there (at the bayou),” with loud music, campfires, parties “and no telling what kind of activities.”

“I dealt with that the last 20 years until the gate went up,” Thomas said.

Howell said his property was “just a beautiful spot of God’s earth” that he had twice attempted to lease for hunting. The first lease ended several years ago, however, when the hunters were continually interrupted by trespassers, Howell said.

The current lessee, John Sigur, of St. Amant, said he sees trespassers at the bayou on a regular basis, “usually every time we’re out there.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.