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County handles road dispute

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By David Giuliani

The County Commission this week agreed to abandon a mile of road in the Ribera area — a move that angered nearby residents who contended they needed it for access.

After an hour of discussion, the commission voted to vacate one mile of the more than four-mile-long County Road B-41-E, which is in the area of the Corruco Bridge.

The decision was made at the request of Daniel Garcia, whose family has owned land on both sides of the one-mile portion for generations. Family members said they have always owned the road, but that it somehow became part of the county road log in the 1980s.

But nearby residents said they purchased their properties with the understanding that all of the road is county-owned. They said they need the road for access, especially in emergencies. A few said their only access is within the one mile in question.

The residents presented a petition with 100 signatures protesting the proposed abandonment of the road.

Garcia said he would give keys to residents who depend on the one mile for access. He said that as it stands, public access has allowed people to vandalize, four-wheel and rockhound on his property.

Garcia’s sister, Rosabel Gallegos, said their father never wanted the road to be public, adding that her family is willing to accommodate nearby residents.

But the proposed abandonment didn’t sit well with most of their neighbors. Robert Desatoff, an emergency medical technician who lives along the road, said keys and codes are never good enough for ambulances and fire trucks to get through to help people.

“The needs of the few should not outweigh the needs of the many,” he told the commission. “The time it takes to wait for someone to unlock the gate will lessen chances of survival.”

When Commissioner Marcellino Ortiz noted that gated communities require keys and codes, Desatoff responded, “Codes get changed; keys get lost. You’re talking about cutting off a one-mile stretch. It makes no sense from my perspective.”

From the beginning of the discussion, the opponents whispered loudly among themselves that they believed the commission would be biased against them. They groaned when Commission Chairman David Salazar asked questions, including why residents far away from the road would sign the petition.

One resident asked what types of relationships the commissioners had with Garcia. Ortiz and Commissioner Albert Padilla said they had never met him, while Salazar, a former principal, said Garcia was a teacher’s aide at his school. But Salazar pointed out that he knew people on both sides of the dispute because he had lived in that area.

During the commission’s discussion, Salazar said the commission had to look at both sides. He said some had suggested Garcia fence off his land on both sides of the road, but Salazar said dividing the land would impact Garcia’s property value.

He also said he could understand Garcia’s concerns about people trespassing, taking materials such as rocks.

County officials noted that the nearby residents can access their homes through other routes, although the residents said those routes were much lengthier.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez told Garcia that even if the county were to vacate the road, the residents could pursue their private rights in state courts to protect their health and welfare.

“The role of the county just concerns the public nature of this roadway,” Lopez said.

The commission then voted unanimously to abandon the road. The other two commissioners, Nicolas Leger and June Garcia, weren’t present; Leger’s father, Ray Leger, had just died, and Garcia had a family emergency.

After the vote, Joe Chavez, one of the residents, told the commission that it had totally disregarded state law, which says that roads shouldn’t be abandoned if there is a public need.

“We are the public, and there is a purpose for the road,” he said.

The county attorney said they could take the matter to state District Court.

“And that’s what we’ll do,” one of the residents said under her breath.