Hancock County declares its portion of Ridge Road public

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Monday to decide the fate of Ridge Road.
No motion was made to abandon the road, thus continuing its state as a public road, Board President Blaine LaFontaine said.
“There was a decision made before we even entered the public hearing,” Kim Frierson Lee said.
Lee is the power of attorney for her father, Larry Frierson, who owns a number of acres of land that adjoining Ridge Road.
LaFontaine said the county road manager and Board investigated the minutes dating back to 1978 and discovered a resolution to have the gates removed in that year, but they never were.
He also said, however, that the road was not listed on the 2003, 2007, or 2013 road register, although it was listed as public on the 1997 register.
The Board voted unanimously to correct the minutes and road register to list the road as public, LaFontaine said.
He said the Board took the records into account in addition to testimony from about nine individuals during the public hearing on Monday.
A letter from Kenneth R. Human, the Associate Director of the John C. Stennis Space Center, to the Board dated June 1, 2017 states the agency has had no issue accessing its land along Ridge Road.
“SCC has no objections to the proposed abandonment of this portion of Ridge Road, provided that NASA continues to have the access it requires,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to say that the gates have limited alleged acts of vandalism and other malicious activity on the road, including dumping and trespassing.
Other letters from Stennis to the Board written in 1996 and 1999 requested the closure of Ridge Road, among a list of other public roads, after a series of unauthorized timber harvests were conducted in the area.
The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors has maintained its stance for several months that the quarter-mile section of Ridge Road located in Pearl River County has not been included on the county maps for a number of years and is therefore private.
LaFontaine said he has no knowledge of Pearl River County’s minutes and has not communicated with those officials about it.
“Quite frankly, the Pearl River County decision is up to them,” he said.
After the public hearing concluded, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department allegedly arrested Picayune resident Boyd Merrifield, who initiated the Ridge Road debate in both counties, for trespassing, according to jail records.
The warrant stemmed from an affidavit filed April 3, 2017 by Lee in Hancock County Justice Court, which states Merrifield maliciously trespassed on her father’s property on March 5, 2017.
Lee said in a phone interview Monday that she discovered photos of Merrifield posted on social media allegedly depicting him standing near her family’s catfish pond.
She said Merrifield was previously warned to stay off her family’s property, which did not include Ridge Road.
Merrifield denied those accusations, stating he was not aware that he was walking on the Frierson’s property and was not previously warned.
Merrifield said the charges were only pressed after he brought the gates to the public’s attention.
Lee said she will also be filing charges against Merrifield’s mother, who was allegedly “screaming bloody murder in [Lee’s] face,” during the Board meeting Monday.
Meanwhile, Merrifield said he plans to sue Lee for defamation of character.
Lee said she would continue to fight for the privatization of the road along with other property owners, including Kevin McDonald and possibly the U.S. Government and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Lee said her family has maintained the road for at least 28 years and is eager to see if the county will reimburse her and when it will start to maintain the road.
Merrifield stated several times during previous Pearl River County Board of Supervisors meetings that he stood to inherit land accessible by Ridge Road.
However, Lee stated she owns all of the land once owned by Merrifield’s family.
“Mrs. Lee wants to make this personal… this is not personal, this has never been personal,” Merrifield said.
LaFontaine said that for now, the matter is closed and any future petitions or litigations will be evaluated if/when they are made.

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About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

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