The Lincoln County Commission was challenged this week again over who owns property north of the upper Yachats River Covered Bridge. It’s a bridge on the federal register of historic places and a federal grant has been awarded to the county to rehabilitate it. It’s been over thirty years since the last restoration.
As part of the work, the county decided to extend public access to an area just north of the bridge so visitors can get a better view of it from more angles.
However, land on that side of the bridge is private property and no trespassers are allowed, according to resident Katrina Wynne who owns a home just north of the bridge.
The county disagrees and claims a public right of way from the bridge north along an old state, and later county road, called the “805.” County Counsel Wayne Belmont revealed this week during a hearing, that the county is in the process of “legalizing” the old 805 to clarify, for the legal record, where the 805 runs specifically up the drainage and connects with other roads up above. Belmont admitted that the road, like so many other “olde” roads in the county, have spotty records on them due to well over 100 years of paperwork, surveys, maps and other documents that have been issued, some lost, some only partially recovered. Belmont told the commission that state law exists to bring order to such historical uncertainties on such roads like the 805. The law requires local governments bring to bear the best historic records available, then to re-certify, or “legalize” the route based on that information.
But as Belmont and his county staff outlined their best estimate of where the road was (and there definitely is a road still discernible winding its way up the drainage) Wynne disputes that the road is, or ever was, a public road. She told the commission that previous county efforts to legalize it have not been officially finished – they were started but there are no records showing that they were completed and filed. She claims that the county’s current effort to legalize the 805 is further proof that the county doesn’t think it was ever officially legalized either. She then accused the county of trying to create a county road across her property through the process of legalization without any reference to what amounts to confiscating her property, calling it a public road, and not paying her just compensation for her loss. Wynne said she’s suspicious that the county is trying to legalize the road coming out of the north end of the bridge in order to qualify for the federal money granted to restore it and to keep county road crews “busy” as a result.
County Commissioner Bill Hall disputed the claim saying that the Yachats River Covered Bridge is a nationally listed historic structure and is worthy of preservation. He added there is no truth to the allegation that the restoration project is a ruse for “make work.”
After a very lengthy hearing, counselor Belmont reiterated his position that the exact history of this area of Lincoln County is so unclear that the situation falls under a provision of state law that provides a framework for finding a solution – not only here but in similar situations around the state. He said the county can claim, based on considerable evidence of county historical documents, ownership patterns, deed transfer documents, road maintenance work and more, that the 805 is the 805 and has been a public right of way for decades on end. Wynne disagreed strongly with Belmont’s characterization and asked him and the commission to meet her half way on the issue.
With the added information provided by Wynne, the commission and Belmont agreed that in the interest of thoroughly examining all available “facts,” the matter does deserve further study and scheduled additional public testimony for April 9th at 1:30pm in the commissioner meeting room. But Belmont said again that what appears to be mounting further descriptions of conflicting historical information only proves up the need to adhere to state law that allows local governments to make determinations as to reasonable outcomes. Again Wynne declared that even under state law the county is over-reaching its authority because it’s trying to create a public road out of thin air. Belmont disagreed based on the county’s, if not perfect, at least convincing documentation of the true history of the area which used to be a very busy place at the turn of the 20th century with the construction of homes, another bridge farther up the watershed and numerous land sales and designations by federal and state authorities.
So, is the Yachats River Covered Bridge a bridge to nowhere, or was it built as a link between sections of the 805 connecting the upper watershed with the Yachats Valley below? In essence a publicly used road.
We’ll see what happens on April 9th and if a meeting of the minds might be accomplished. A court fight certainly can’t be ruled out. But then again, with a time limit on availability of the federal funding for restoring the bridge, things could get really interesting.