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Commission rejects county road gates
Commissioners feared setting a precedent
new deh county commission pic
This is the intersection at SE 160 Avenue and SE 40 Road in southeast Barton County. Area landowners and residents wanted the portions of the roads gated, but the Barton County Commission Monday rejected the request. - photo by Tribune file photo

In other business, the Barton County Commission:
• Allowed to expire the county-wide burn ban that had been in place for all but a couple weeks since the end of May. Although there has been rain fall, the state remains under drought conditions and the ban may be revisited in the future.
• Approved updates to the employee handbook and administrative manual. These centered around exceptions to the “across-the-board” pay increases.
• Approved the Central Kansas Community Correction’s fiscal year 2012 year-end outcomes. This paves the way for the office to apply for Kansas Community Corrections Act grants to develop and maintain programs for adult offenders assigned to community corrections.
• Heard an update on the activities of various county agencies from County Administrator Richard Boeckman.

Barton County Commissioners had no idea what a hornets nest they were stirring up when they started talking about closing or gating a sandy road in the extreme southeastern corner of the county. They found out and, based on ears full of negative feedback and the fear of setting a dangerous precedent, opted Monday morning not to act of the request from some are landowners.
At issue was the L-shaped intersection including one mile of SE 40 Road and one mile of SE 160 Avenue. Less than a half mile to the north flows the Arkansas River and less than a half mile to the east is the Rice County Line.
A handful of folks who live along the road cited illegal trash dumping, drug activity and poaching along the river. They had sought for a year to have closed or gated to restrict the unauthorized traffic that often speeds down the country lanes.
“For an issue that appeared so simple, this has been as difficult as any I’ve seen since I’ve been on this board,” said commissioner Don Cates, whose Fourth District includes the roads in question. He has received more comments from constituents on this matter than on any other he’s dealt with.
“Even installing a gate would have a negative impact on taxpayers,” he said. The residents had originally requested the roads be vacated (or closed) but dropped that request when the idea of a gate was raised.
“I’ve had constituents call me very concerned,” said commissioner Kenny Schremmer, who was also amazed at the number of comments he’s heard. “There’s been a lot of objection to this.”
Schremmer was the first Monday to bring up the idea of a precedent. Many of the problems faced by those living along the roadways are experienced elsewhere in the county and he wondered out loud about where it would stop. “This is happening everywhere.”  
He was also worried about access by emergency and law enforcement vehicles, farm equipment, and oil field and utility trucks. If there is a gate, who would have the keys?
“I don’t think we are here to put a burden on residents,” Schremmer said.
Restricting access to an open, public road troubled commissioner Jennifer Schartz. “We need to help farmers maintain their livelihoods.”
Gayle Christie, who along with her mother Ruth Peters were among those pushing for the gate, told the commission their families had homesteaded in the area having lived there for over 100 years. “We are concerned citizens and landowners.”
She said there are motorists traveling down the roads early in the morning for no apparent reason. “I don’t know what the solution is.”
Commissioners suggested a more prevalent law enforcement presence on the roads. But, it takes deputies 30 minutes to arrive, Christie said.
“We haven’t been calling, but maybe we should,” a disappointed Christie said of dialing 911 whenever there is suspicious activity.
“The people need to get together and be heard,” Schremmer said. But, “there’s been a lot of thought put into this” and the decision was not an easy one.