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Stories Added - November 2009
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Lawsuit filed over county road dispute
Trinity Standard - November 2009
GROVETON – Only minutes after Trinity County commissioners authorized County Attorney Joe Bell to “take whatever action is required” to keep the Roy Tipton Road open, the county was named in a lawsuit challenging its right to the road.
The first shots in the legal fight over whether or not the road is owned by the county were fired earlier this year when landowner Dwight Pyle of Baytown erected a gate on the road and the commissioners court authorized Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham to take it down.
The gate in question was placed at the road’s intersection with the county’s Fountain Creek Road.
While Pyle argues in his lawsuit that he owns the road and that the county has no easement, commissioners contend it is a “by-use” road and under state law it is a public thoroughfare.
According to Bell, state law provides that any road that was used by the public and maintained by the county for at least 10 years prior to 1981 is classified as a “by-use” roadway and is part of the county’s road system
Worsham told the court on Monday, Oct. 12, he has maintained the road since he took office and that his predecessor, retired Commissioners Lynn Reynolds had maintained it since at least 1961.
“The maintenance has not been a regular thing because no body lives down there right now. Its been on an as-needed basis, but I have maintained the road,” Worsham told commissioners during their meeting Monday.
During that meeting, the issue returned when commissioners received a letter from Pyle’s attorney, Melissa Hannah of Lufkin, asking them to renounce their claim and vacate the road.
In the letter, Hannah indicated that if commissioners refused, a lawsuit would be filed in district court.
When commissioners voted to authorize the removal of the gate on July 13, they noted at that time they expected the matter would eventually end up in district court.
During Monday’s meeting, Worsham said he felt the county was “hung up in the middle” and that no matter what action was taken, they would be sued. Members of the Tipton family, who own property at the end of the short, 200-yard road, had asked the county to remove the gate earlier.
“I hate to see it go to court,” he said. “We feel it is a county road and Mr. Pyle feels its not.”
“Its pretty simple to me,” added County Judge Mark Evans. “I haven’t heard anything from this commissioners court or from former Commissioner Reynolds that this is not a county road. I think this court should do what is needed.”
Worsham had noted that after he took down the gate this summer, Pyle had replaced it.
During Monday’s meeting, commissioners order the second gate be removed and authorized Bell to “take whatever action required” to keep the road open.
Both Hannah and Pyle were present during the meeting but when asked if she wished to speak, Hannah told the court she was only present to learn what response commissioners had to their demand to vacate their road claim.
As soon as the commissioners acted, she filed a lawsuit in district court and commissioners were served with notices of the suit before their meeting was over.
The lawsuit filed Monday in the 411th District Court in Groveton seeks unspecified monetary damages for the gate and attorney fees as well as a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county or its agents from entering the property in question.
It also asks the district court to declare the county has no valid easement for the road and to issue a permanent injunction that would prevent the county from trying to open the road in the future.