Residents, council debate closure of Walker Road

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By Chris Sardelli

A proposal to close a segment of a Heath Springs road took a slight detour at Lancaster County Council’s April 22 meeting.
On council’s agenda was a request to close a portion of Walker Road, an almost four-mile stretch of county-owned road jutting off S.C. 522 and extending to Mt. Carmel Road in the Heath Springs area.
County Administrator Steve Willis recommended the closing in light of structural problems at a major creek crossing along the road and problems with erosion.
But several county residents showed up to oppose the measure, citing reduced access for hunters and motorists, as well as concerns the closure could start an unwelcome precedent.
Having spoken to homeowners near the road, Heath Springs resident Gary Horton urged council to think about the county’s future growth and the potential need for such roads.
“In the next 20 years, with Charlotte coming down and coming fast, there will be more opportunities (in the county),” Horton said.
He also worried such a closure could be irreversible.
“A lot of access is going to be closed down and the chance that if it is closed down, for it to open again is next to none,” he said. “Just like for the people in Sun City and Indian Land and how things are important to them, it’s the same for people in the country. There are things that are important to us.”
County resident Ken Faulkenberry also stepped to the microphone, worried the closure could start a precedent for closing roads throughout the county.
“I hope you don’t haphazardly close roads people don’t live on because then you’ll be closing three-quarters of the roads,” Faulkenberry said.
Willis told council he also broached the idea with Sheriff Barry Faile, EMS Director Clay Catoe and members of the fire service and public works department. Only one person, a fire chief, raised concerns about losing access to fight wildfires, but that person had no “compelling reason to object,” Willis said.
With no other concerns, Willis asked council to begin the road closure process, which includes notifying the public and petitioning the Court of Common Pleas for approval. If approved, the public works department would be authorized to begin discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove a 96-inch pipe along the road and restore the creek to its natural state.
But council may still have a long ride before considering the proposal.
When considering council’s options, Councilwoman Charlene McGriff said the county could maintain the road or decide to make it a private road.
“We could make the road private and let the residents take care of it,” McGriff said. “Because to me it really is a private road.”
Continuing to maintain the road does not seem cost effective, she said.
“We’re working on finances right now and we don’t have enough in the budget,” she said. “We’re going to have to make a decision if we’re getting enough uses out of that road to keep it open. Sometimes we have to do common sense things and keeping the road open for a few people is not being good stewards of the community.”
Councilman Jack Estridge asked what happens if council does nothing, though Willis was concerned about potential injuries due to an unsafe road.
“I’d hate to have someone on the road and they end up in the creek,” Willis said.
Council members then discussed several options, from conducting an engineering study to declining the closure request.
Councilman Larry Honeycutt said he received several calls to keep the road open.
“There has to be merit to it or people would not be calling. It has to be used,” Honeycutt said. “I don’t think we should just abruptly shut it down. I think an engineering study should be done.”
Estridge heard suggestions to leave the road “as is.”
“I had a couple of people say just leave it open. We don’t need a fancy bridge or an expensive crossing. We just need a way to go from one side to the other,” Estridge said.
Public Works Director Jeff Catoe cautioned council.
“I’ll do whatever you say, but doing things that way is why the roads are the way they are today,” Catoe said.
Council then unanimously approved conducting a preliminary engineering study on the road, though details about the cost or process were not discussed.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416