After more than a year's wait, the process to pave Fish Haul Road on Hilton Head Island can move forward -- welcome news for those who live along the road.
On Monday, the Beaufort County Council voted to condemn four sections of Fish Haul Road, which would give the county ownership of the stretch from Baygall to Mitchellville roads. Once the county takes ownership -- which may still be months away -- construction can begin.
That means no more worries about getting stuck in the mud during or after heavy rains, which some residents say turn the road into a thick, goopy mess.
Ana Paz has lived on the road for three years and sometimes drives in and out of the neighborhood four times a day. She said she has been stuck in the mud after rain and hopes paving will mean better, faster access for all residents.
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"When it really rains, (your car) could get stuck there for days," said Lancelot Binns, who has owned property along the road for 15 years and lived there for 12.
Binns has even seen a police car get stuck.
That's one of the main concerns of the county, said Don Smith, a construction manager with Beaufort County. For almost 20 years, the county has been identifying and paving dirt roads to improve access for residents and emergency vehicles.
This is the county's second attempt at paving Fish Haul Road.
In the past, the county has claimed ownership of roads that it has maintained for many years through a prescriptive right, county attorney Josh Gruber said. When the project to pave Fish Haul Road began last year, one property owner challenged that right, prompting the county to change the way it approaches paving these roads.
Now the county will only pave a dirt road that it has recorded ownership of, Gruber said. In most cases, and after letters and public meetings for residents that explain the paving project, residents will give the rights to the road to the county.
In the case of Fish Haul Road, owners of 10 of the 14 properties along the road agreed to hand over their piece of the street.
The final four sections of the road belong to heirs property or properties with out-of-town owners, Gruber said. To get ownership over those portions of Fish Haul Road, the county will condemn the property under eminent domain.
This kind of condemnation has allowed the county to advance several similar paving projects, Gruber said.
Now that the council has approved the condemnations, those properties will be assessed by a hired appraiser.
In past instances, appraisers have agreed that the county doesn't owe property owners any money because paving and maintaining the road is compensation enough, Gruber said. That will most likely be the case along Fish Haul Road, too, although the appraisals themselves will cost the county about $3,500 per parcel, he added.
The whole process of solidifying the county's ownership of the road -- including title work, appraisals and filing the proper court documents -- could take between two and four months, Gruber said.
These costs and the paving project will be paid for through a county program to pave dirt roads, Gruber said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.