LISBON - Columbiana County commissioners will act on the Moore Road controversy at their June 25 meeting, and any decision they make is likely to be challenged in court.
A public hearing was held Wednesday by commissioners on a petition filed by nine property owners on and around Moore Road in St. Clair Township seeking to close, or vacate, a 2,676-foot section of road that does not exist.
The hour-long hearing was attended by about 30 people, most of whom appeared in favor of the application, while six spoke in opposition. Commissioners will take the comments and other information presented to them under consideration before making a decision at their meeting in two weeks.
The tone of yesterday's hearing was likely set at the outset when a private court reporter showed up to record the proceedings. The court reporter said she had been hired by Moore Road resident Charles Bramel, who is leading efforts to keep the path open for public use. He said his attorney had a scheduling conflict or would have been there.
Commission Chairman Jim Hoppel recused himself from the proceedings at the outset because his niece lives on Moore Road and is one of the petitioners. Hoppel left the hearing, and Vice Chairman Tim Weigle presided in his place.
The disputed section begins where Moore Road ends and turns into an path that continues before joining with the driveway of David McCoy on Bell School Road. The people who filed the vacation petition own the property on both sides of the path, and the property would be divided evenly between them should their request be approved.
Moore Road residents with horses use the path to get to Bell School Road and then Ware Road so they can access the bridle trails at nearby Beaver Creek State Park. These residents created a horsemen's association and in January asked St. Clair Township trustees to grant their organization an easement to continue using the path.
In response, the trustees asked the county engineer's office to perform a survey. Based on that information, the trustees concluded that although the path section had been deeded to the township for road purposes in 1937, it was never officially opened as part of Moore Road.
Trustee Robert Swickard told commissioners they have no need for Moore Road to be opened up to Bell School Road and to do so would cost $300,000 just to put in a gravel base.
"We cannot afford such a road project. We have had to scale back our roadway chip and seal program to a mere 2.1 miles this year from once doing almost 15 miles per year," he said.
Bramel testified that he believes the trustees erred when they concluded the path was a never-used public road, which opened the door for the adjoining property owners to ask that it be closed. He said since the trustees had erred, the petition was invalid and commissioners have no choice but to reject it.
Residents with property along the disputed path and others who live on adjacent roads told commissioners about repeated problems with Bramel and his wife, Laura, trespassing on their property while on horseback, which continued even after they were asked to quit. Some of these incidents have resulted in police reports.
Gary McCoy, one of the petitioners, said there were never any problem among the neighbors in the 54 years he has lived there until the Bramels moved to Moore Road, which was in 2012.
"He's intimidated everyone along the strip ... and why this guy's allowed to get away with this, heaven only knows," he said.
This sentiment was shared by another petitioner, Connie Sheville, who said Bramel "has no respect for anybody" and does whatever he wants.
David McCoy said the increased horse traffic along the path that goes through his property has damaged his farm fields and crops, which is why he wants it to be closed. Mrs. Bramel denied doing any such thing.
The Bramels had their defenders, including William Williams of Lisbon, who said there was much value in the horse-riding therapy program the Bramels are offering to military veterans through the Wounded Warriors program.
Mr. Bramel attended the hearing dressed in his military uniform as a staff sergeant in the Ohio National Guard. After the hearing, Bramel told the newspaper he is currently on inactive status and intends to retire from the National Guard in January.
As for any involvement with the Wounded Warriors program, Bramel said they are still in the process of trying to become officially affiliated with the organization and have applied for a grant to help fund the horse therapy program. He said they are currently offering horse therapy to one former soldier.
Commissioner Mike Halleck thanked Bramel for his military service, but he said it has nothing to do with the issue before them. "I don't know of anyone who doesn't support our military or Wounded Warriors, but that's not the point of this hearing," he said.
The Bramels maintain that using the path provides them the only safe way of traveling to and from the park without riding along the much-traveled Sprucevale Road. It was suggested by some that the Bramels simply load their horses onto a horse trailer for transportation to the nearby bridle trails, but he said that is impractical since they hope to eventually serve six to eight former soldiers at a time.
Another person noted the Bramels and other horsemen could have access to Beaver Creek State Park through one of their supporters, Chester Channels, whose Moore Road property abuts the park.