CALCUTTA - Despite trustees having a township-owned right-of-way near Moore Road surveyed and marked by the Columbiana County Engineer's office just last week, debates and confrontations between members of the Moore Road Horse Association and their neighbors continue unabated.
The controversy spilled over into Tuesday's St. Clair Township Trustees' meeting, as members of the Moore Road Horse Association challenged the findings of the county's survey and made accusations about their neighbors' activities.
At a special meeting last Friday, trustees shared the results of a survey conducted by the engineer's office as well as the legal opinion of their attorney, Assistant County Prosecutor Andy Beech.
Trustees said at this time that the 30-foot easement in question, although deeded to the township for road purposes, was never opened or used as a road. Trustees also confirmed that property owners who abut the right-of-way have the ability to petition the Columbiana County Commissioners to have it vacated.
These property owners, namely William Sheville and Dave McCoy, had attended past trustees' meetings inquiring about the vacation process. Trustees concluded that no one, including the abutting property owners, should "restrict anyone from using" the right-of-way until the vacation process was complete.
Trustees also stated at this time that a wooded strip of land running northeast across the right-of-way was private property. They said that attempts by horse association members to clear this land and use it as an alternate route should be considered trespassing.
Armed with copies of township ordinances, old county maps and photographs of property along the right-of-way, Moore Road Horse Association member Charles Bramel took to challenging the survey's findings. Before Bramel began, Trustee Chairman Robert Swickard reiterated the township had upheld its responsibility by having the right-of-way surveyed and did not want to be involved any further.
"I mean no disrespect, but our attorney says we're done," said Swickard. "Any other inquiries to that stuff all goes through his office or the county engineers. I don't know what else we can tell you. We determined what it was and where it is and we're done."
This statement did not appear to phase Charles Bramel who started by alleging or appearing to allege that trustees had attempted to hold the special meeting to release the county's survey results without telling him, his wife, horse association Vice President Laura Bramel, or President Chester Channels. Trustees informed him that they had given local media 24 hours notice of the meeting as per Ohio Revised Code.
"We are a definitely interested party and we didn't know the meeting was going to happen," said Bramel
He explained that he had spoken with Trustee James Hall last week and was informed the special meeting would likely happen Friday. He said he had assumed Hall had meant next Friday, and was out of town during the meeting.
"It's actually better that you had the meeting before we were here because we gathered information that you guys need to have today and we want to present it to you," said Bramel. "We'll make it quick and painless if we could."
What followed was neither quick nor painless as the next 45 minutes of the meeting became contentious and convoluted.
The exception to this was Laura Bramel, who presented trustees with a letter stating that Dave McCoy continues to obstruct the right-of-way despite agreeing not to after trustees made the determination that it is owned by the township. She provided trustees with several pictures showing McCoy's excavation equipment parked across the right-of-way. She claimed the excavation equipment is a public nuisance and asked that trustees command him to move it as per Ohio Revised Code.
Furthermore, Bramel stated that abutting property owner William "Billy" Sheville has placed "No Trespassing" signs "along the berm of the road bordering his property, in an effort to prevent the public from using them." She once again cited Ohio Revised Code which allows off road vehicles, including horses, to be operated on the berm or shoulder of the road. She asked that trustees have Sheville remove the signs and have the right-of-way along the Bell School Road marked.
Trustee advised Laura Bramel that they would send the information along to Beech and await his legal opinion on what to do regarding Sheville's signs. Township Police Chief Don Hyatt said he would speak with McCoy regarding his obstruction of the right-of-way.
Charles Bramel then took the floor, saying horse association members have stopped using the township right-of-way due to McCoy blocking it with his excavator and instead started using what he called the "North Moore Road" or the "North Fork."
This wooded strip has been deemed private property by the county engineer's office. Bramel said he was told by township police that association members should not use this private property portion anymore and instead use the township right-of-way which remains blocked by McCoy's equipment. Bramel admitted to clearing brush on the "North Fork" property.
"They (police) have no clue or direction of what to do," said Bramel.
Bramel then proceeded to produce a 1937 survey map drawn by county engineers which he contends shows the "North Fork" of Moore Road running through the wooded strip determined to be private property. He claimed the document was recently discovered "buried in the files" by County Engineer Bert Dawson.
"This official document, which is the county engineers in 1937, clearly shows Moore Road going to Ware Road. Would you agree that that road is depicted on that document?" asked Bramel.
"I'm not sure of that since we were told by Andy (Beech) not to comment on anything that I want to comment on anything until he sees it," Swickard responded.
Bramel then accused Swickard of already commenting on the situation in the media. He read a quotation from the article "Trustees share survey results." Bramel appeared to suggest that trustees had acted inappropriately by making a "legal determination."
He said that he and Laura Bramel had attended a recent county commissioners' meeting and informed them about the trustees' decision. Bramel said commissioners were "very surprised" by trustees making a legal determination.
Swickard countered that portion of the article read aloud by Bramel was a statement directly from Beech, and they have only followed the advice of Beech and the county engineer's department all along.
Shifting quickly from one piece of evidence to the next, Bramel produced a township map several years more recent than the last which purported to show the "North Fork" of Moore Road marked as "Moore Lane."
A letter presented to trustees by Bramel claims that, "If trustees have determined without due process that the North Fork of Moore has been vacated or does not exist it may put the township or trustees in a position of liability for restricting the right of the public to uninterrupted travel on a public roadway."
Despite being told minutes earlier that trustees would not comment on any documents without legal counsel, Bramel continued to press trustees to "affirm for the record" that the documents show the lane exists. Trustees again refused to comment without legal counsel.
Lastly, Bramel accused Swickard of colluding with McCoy and Sheville to have the right-of-way vacated. Brammel's letter to trustees reads: "Also it is apparent that Trustee Swickard has been encouraging David McCoy and William Sheville to seek vacation of the Moore Road Forks." The letter goes on to claim that even if vacated, the horse association could legally continue to use the right-of-way for horse traffic.
"I take offense to that," said Swickard, in response to Bramel's allegation. "I've stayed as middle-of-the-road as I could."
With no end to the debate in sight, Swickard told Bramel that trustees needed to proceed with the rest of the regular meeting's business. He said that trustees would be taking the evidence presented by Bramel to Beech and the county engineer's office to get their opinions.
In the meantime, they advised Bramel and all other parties involved to stay off the "North Fork" of Moore Road. They said they would also advise McCoy to move his excavator from the township right-of-way.