Photo | Lagniappe
The Baldwin County Commission recently attempted to restrict vehicular access to Zundel Road, leading to a dust-up with a local resident.
A conversation between Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey and County Engineer Joe Nunnally ultimately led to the chainsawed remains of a newly county-constructed barricade being dumped in Commissioner Chris Elliott’s office last week, it was revealed Tuesday.
The recent placement of a barricade on Zundel Road is what led resident Michael Hutchison to fire up his chainsaw and remove the barrier, citing a 1972 Supreme Court case his in-laws won against a fellow resident who tried to limit access to the bay.
Hutchison said he’s battled to keep the access open since at least 2005 and was shocked when he noticed another barrier up last week.
Nunnally said there are safety concerns with the narrow roadway and vehicles traveling to the water, where there is little room to turn around. More often, vehicles must back up the length of the road to get out. He said he told the parks department to block access to the road after receiving complaints. Nunnally said erection of the barricade occurred as the result of a conversation between he and Dorsey. He also shared with Lagniappe an email sent to the Hutchisons.
“I gave the directive to the parks department to place the wooden post after we did the repairs to the wooden steps at the end of the road,” the email stated. “We were receiving some complaints about questionable activities at the end of the road and I made this decision based on a public safety issue. This item has been turned over to the county attorney and we will be discussing this issue with him in the near future.”
In the email Nunnally also warned the Hutchisons that, “what you and your husband did by removing the post from Zundel’s ROW is destruction of County property and there can be consequences to such actions.”
Lagniappe has requested copies of all emails pertaining to this matter between commissioners, Nunnally and the parks department director.
There was no action taken on a solution to the issue during Tuesday morning’s work session. The commissioners heard discussion about access to the road but remained mostly quiet except for brief comments by Frank Burt and Tucker Dorsey. Dorsey claimed he did not order the barricade to be placed on Zundel Road.
“I want to clarify one thing before we go any further,” Dorsey said. “It was never to limit access to the water. It was only for vehicles from a safety standpoint. I did not entrust Mr. Nunnally or the highway department to do anything specifically on the road. The first I heard about the road being barricaded off was when we got the email saying the posts had been cut down that night.”
Asked later Tuesday if there was a specific event that had caused him to have the conversation with Nunnally about Zundel Road — which is in Elliott’s district — Dorsey texted, “Teenagers drinking, making out with their girlfriends, drug buy meets, easy dirt road to go hide down where police don’t patrol.”
The barricade didn’t last long, as Hutchison demolished it less than 12 hours after it was erected. He unceremoniously deposited its remains in Elliott’s office in Fairhope.
“The county built a barricade illegally across a right of way that they own and are supposed to preserve for the public,” said Hutchison, who cited three reasons why it’s illegal. “Number one, it’s illegal because of the 1972 Alabama Supreme Court decision. It said you could not put a barricade across it.”
Hutchison then raised the question of proper protocol, saying there were no hearings, discussions or mention of putting up the barrier at any recent County Commission meetings.
Baldwin County Commission attorney David Connor agrees that the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against a barricade blocking vehicles from traveling Zundel Road to a landing and pier on Mobile Bay.
But the Baldwin County Commission was not a party in that lawsuit and is likely not banned from barricading the road if it thinks it’s necessary for safety reasons, Connor said. The county owns the right of way and local residents use the road to launch kayaks and catch fish.
“I do think Mr. Hutchison’s response about protocol is right, I think we have to absolutely follow rules and regulations,” Connor said. “And the way to address these issues is the way you did this morning. Come to the meeting, talk, voice concerns and determine the right course of action. I do have to say we cannot have situations where we allow individual residents to take control over rights of way in their own hands.”
Hutchison’s other point was the lease for a parking lot at the corner of Zundel Road and Scenic 98 stipulates that no barricade be built.
The lease is now invalid, Connor said, because the Broadbeck family gifted the parking lot to the county with the stipulation the county not vacate the roadway. It doesn’t mention barricades, Connor said.
As for the Supreme Court case, Connor said that was a stipulation for the 1972 case of McPhillips v. Broadbeck and the county is not bound by that ruling. Connor did say the county should take into consideration the precedent in the decision.
“To simply say one lawsuit prohibits the county forever from taking action to regulate and protect the public in an area that could be deemed dangerous is an oversimplified approach to that,” Connor said. “The court said that it was not proper to vacate the right of way. There’s a difference between vacation and regulation and control, in my opinion.”