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Commission considers putting gates at one of two Barton County roads

POSTED September 10, 2012 4:06 p.m.
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This is the L-shaped intersection at SE 160 Ave...

Barton County Commissioners and residents of extreme southeastern Barton County stood on a dirt road in East Comanche Township Monday afternoon.
Less than a half mile to the north flowed the Arkansas River. Less than a half mile to their east was the Rice County Line.
Citing illegal trash dumping, drug activity and poaching along the river, those who live in the area want the L-shaped intersection including one mile of SE 40 Road and one mile of SE 160 Avenue gated, perhaps even locked. They feel this with would restrict the unauthorized traffic that often speeds down the country lanes.
After much discussion about the issued during its meeting Monday morning, commissioners wanted to see first hand the roads involved in the request. So, postponing action of the request, they took the half-hour drive for the field trip.  
“This is about the safety of the people who live there,” said Gayle Christie, whose mother Ruth Peters owns land on SE 40 Road. They don’t want to be a statistic, she added during the morning meeting.
Christie and the others had originally approached the commission about vacating (or closing) the roads . But, after the residents talked, they dropped this request and decided to pursue the gate option. Running along the Rice County line, SE 160 Avenue is interrupted at 40 Road because of the river.
She related incidents of break-ins, arm confrontations with people on drugs and mounds of trash, including refrigerators, mattresses and stoves cluttering the river bed. She brought a stack of Barton County Sheriff’s Office reports and statements from residents and local wildlife experts to back her case.
County Counselor/Administrator Richard Boeckman said there is a state statute that permits the use of such gates. “The commission does have the authority.”
He believes the situation in southeast Barton County would qualify for such action. The county would install the gates, but they would have to be maintained by the landowners and township, who would also accept the liability.
They would also have to be wide enough to accommodate oil field equipment that service wells in the area, the township’s road grader and farm machinery.
The initial petition to close the road had met with some resistance from Midwest Energy and an oil company, said County Engineer Clark Rusco. Letters were sent to parties involved and two public notices were published in the Great Bend Tribune advertising the possible closure.
“This is not going to have a negative impact on the public at large,” said commissioner Don Cates, whose Fourth District includes the roads in question. Although he was uncertain about the closing, he supported the idea of a gate.
But, “there still are some issues to work out,” he said. There are questions about whether the gates should be locked or not (and who would have keys), where the gates should be located and, since 160 Road runs along the Barton/Rice county line, Rice County officials need to contacted.
“I’m sensitive to the needs of these people,” said commissioner Jennifer Schartz, but she did have concerns. “This could be seen as setting a precedent in the rest of the county.”
Where as the adjoining property is private, the river is controlled by the state and there is public access for all-terrain vehicle use and hunting. And, there are cases of  dumping and poaching all along the Arkansas, and Schartz wondered where such closures would end.
Christie said the sheriff’s office patrols the area, but with limited manpower, those patrols are scarce.
Craig Clawson, East Comanche Township treasurer, said the township board opposed vacating the roads for fear it would limit road maintenance. The board would have to consider the gate idea.
“A gate’s not going to stop it,” he said. It would have to be locked.
Boeckman said the state law doesn’t address the matter of locking the gate.
No action was taken on the proposal Monday. It will appear again on a later commission agenda.

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