Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fiscal Court unanimously votes to cut tree near Slaughters

Property owner threatens legal action


J-E News Editor
The battle over a tree growing along side Hester-Winstead Road near Slaughters has once again become a hot button issue for the Webster County Fiscal Court and a pair of neighbors whose families have lived near each other for generations, following a 3-0 vote by magistrates to cut the tree down.
Hester-Winstead Road, a narrow one-lane road that runs from Slaughters Cemetery Road to a dead-end, has been on the county road plan for many years. There are only a handful of houses on the road, but it is traveled regularly by a Webster County School Bus.

In June of last year the county was looking at repaving the road, which was when the tree first came to their attention. The tree roots grow right up to the asphalt at a point where the road makes a ninety degree turn, leading members of the fiscal court to consider the tree a possible road hazard. Along with that, many of the trees upper limbs were dead and magistrates believe that the tree is hallow.
Magistrate Jerry “Poogie” Brown made the motion to cut the tree at Monday’s Fiscal Court meeting. 
“I think the tree needs to be removed,” Brown told the court. “It’s not that I’ve got anything against anybody, people just keep coming up to me asking that it be removed. And we had Reid Hair (former Daviess County Judge Executive) here and he told us, if someone has an accident there, the county will be liable.”
Haire, who was in court over a seperate issue, told the magistrates that he had faced a similiar issue while Judge Executive in Daviess County.
“I’ve been on both sides of this issue,” said magistrate Chad Townsend. In the beginning I was against it, but after hearing from Judge Haire, I was for taking it down for liability reasons.”
This was the second time the court has voted to down the tree. In October property owner Roger Winstead and his attorney, Jimmy Gentry, appeared before the court claiming that there was a family of red-tailed hawks nesting in the tree. These hawks are a protected species, meaning that their nesting location is protected by federal law. This claim prompted the county to withdraw their decision to cut the tree.
An expert from the state later investigated the claim of the red-tailed hawks and reported that there was no evidence that any red-tailed hawks had nested in the tree.
Gentry also argued that the road has been relocated since it was first added to the county road plan, implying that the county’s right-of-way should be based on the original road plan.
“I have no doubt the tree is in the right-of-way,” magistrate Tony Felker said on Monday. “The roots are right up against the pavement. I don’t know where the road used to be, all I can deal with is where the road is now.”
Barry Pettus, the owner of the property across the road from Winstead was at a court meeting in November. He confirmed that the road had been moved, but he said that move happened nearly fifty years ago.
“The road used to be down in a gully,” Pettus told the court. “During the winter you couldn’t get up the hill to our house. So my dad moved the road further over onto our property. Our family actually gave up part of our farm land to make sure we could get home.
“Our farm has been in our family since before the Civil War,” Pettus continued. “My dad says that the original property line is actually on the other side of the road where Mr. Winstead’s fence line is located.”
Pettus reported that he had documentation on the farm going back nearly as long as his family had owned it, and he suggested that it might help the matter if he were to get his own property surveyed.
Part of Monday’s motion to cut the tree was accompanied by a stipulation that Winstead and his attorney be given a minimum of forty-eight hours before any work be done. County attorney Clint Prow sent that notice in the form of a letter soon after the meeting adjourned. This notice prompted a quick response from Winstead’s attorney in the form of a letter to Prow and Judge Executive Jim Townsend.
“The Winsteads and I did not receive advance notice that the Webster County Fiscal Court would be taking action on this matter,” wrote Winstead, whose Dixon office is located across the street from the court house. He went on to say that the fiscal court had not yet proven it’s legal burden. “As of today, the Webster County Fiscal Court has not proven the real estate it is threatening to take from the Winsteads is within the County’s right-of-way.”
At prior meetings both the Fiscal Court and Pettus had discussed having the property surveyed. As of Monday’s meeting Pettus has not reported whether a survey had been completed or not, and the county’s surveyor has yet to survey the property. 
Gentry told the court in his letter that if the county proceeded with this decision, he and his client would take legal action.
“If any action is taken by the Webster County Fiscal Court in regards to this illegal taking of the Winstead’s property, the Winsteads shall pursue their claim for trespassing and seek any and all damages from the Webster County Fiscal Court per Kentucky law,” he wrote.
At press time on Tuesday, Judge Townsend said the county had no comment about the letter.


Fiscal Court hears appeal to save tree recently slated for cutting (VIDEO)