Landowner seeks help in opening roadway

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - Perry County commissioners refused in a regular meeting April 7 to help a farmer who told them access to his land via a county road has been blocked by a neighboring landowner. County officials were unsure if the road belongs to the county. The adjacent landowner said it doesn't.

Which road the farmer intended to have opened is uncertain.

Herb Huff of Birdseye sought the commissioners' help in getting barricades removed from Odyssey Road, which runs between Old Indiana 37 and Indiana 62 south and west of St. Croix, according to a map he provided.

He also provided pictures of fence posts, some driven into the ground and others standing in 5-gallon buckets of concrete, that he said were placed in the road by the neighboring landowner, Fred Dupont, after Dupont had a survey done.

"We do not know why, but the county will not help us open the road," Huff said in a written statement he provided at the outset of his presentation, "and therefore, have cut off our only means to make money, which will keep us from paying taxes on the farm as well as possibly kill me, as I am a diabetic with no other means to make money."

Huff's written statement identifies the road as County Road 210, and he called it Odyssey Road in addressing the commissioners.

The map he provided shows a road highlighted from Indiana 37 south of St. Croix going west, then north to connect with Indiana 62 between Ovenbird and Oklahoma roads.

An official county map adopted in 1977 and updated in 1995 lists Odyssey Road as County Road 210, but shows it as only a quarter-mile strip going nowhere near Indiana 62.

The couple has not been able to access their land for nine months, Huff's letter continued, costing them $45,000 in a lost wheat crop last year and revenues from hunters who would have leased the land.

Huff said he employed attorney Jeff Hagedorn to assist him.

As discussion of the issue began, however, Hagedorn, who was filling in for absent county attorney and law partner Chris Goffinet, said he couldn't remain in the room due to a potential conflict of interest.

He also said before leaving the room their law firm, Huber and Goffinet, cannot be involved.

Huff said in his written statement he'd talked to the commissioners previously, "and they talked to my attorney. They decided that this caused a conflict of interest and (Hagedorn) has now abandoned my case to remove the blockage. There is no conflict of interest, I want the county road opened, just as they do."

By refusing to force Dupont to open the road, the commissioners "have taken away my wages," Huff wrote. Noting his diabetes prevents him from walking very far, he added, "they make me walk over three miles to the property line. Now they want me to remove the barricades by myself."

That suggestion came again during the meeting, from Commissioner Jody Fortwendel.

"If I was in your shoes and knew I was right, nobody would keep me off of my property," he said.

"It's beyond me why he barricaded it," Commissioner Gary Dauby said.

"I weigh 130 pounds, and he weighs 230," Huff said, referring to Fred Dupont. "He just thinks he can do it."

Paperwork Huff provided to the commissioners show the land adjacent to his as belonging to Edna and (the late) Herschel DuPont of Ovenbird Road, parents of Fred Dupont and Kathy Huff, who was at the commissioners meeting with her husband, Herb.

"We made that road ourselves and use it for the farm," Edna Dupont said later. "(The Huffs) have got plenty of land up there," she added, suggesting they also have other ways to access their property. Her son owns the road, she said, and "he wants to keep hunters off his land" because "someone was shot by a turkey hunter there a couple of years ago."

Fred Dupont said the road in question "never did have a name," and that Huff has been "trespassing on that road the last five years."

The Huffs also "barricaded the road for the last five years," he said. "They had a double-wide gate up there that was padlocked. If they can block the road for five years, I can block it for five years."

His attorney has documentation saying the road is called Oklahoma Road, Fred Dupont added.

He also said the Huffs have 110 yards of property along Indiana 62.

As Huff talked about Odyssey Road and referred to his statement identifying it as County Road 210, Dauby said he's not sure it's a county road. He asked Highway Superintendent Ed Feix about it. Feix said it's not a road his department maintains.

"I was hoping to get this settled, whether it's a county road," Feix responded. "We're not getting paid for that, so I'm not sure."

He said later the road is identified as an unimproved county road, and legal research would be necessary to determine if it had ever been abandoned.

"It could be possible it was never maintained (by the county)," he said. Hundreds of unimproved roads could exist that the county doesn't maintain, he added.

With the county attorney unable to help, Fortwendel was reluctant to spend county money to involve another lawyer.

"Even if it's not a county road, we have a prescriptive easement," Huff told the commissioners.

A search of the online Indiana Code by The News returned results for "prescriptive easement" only in relation to railroad activities.

Indiana Code 32-23-3-1 appears to come closer to Huff's situation, but seems to refer only to landowners denied access to their property through the straightening of a stream, construction of a ditch or erection of a dam.

"It sounds like you need to get some counsel and work with your neighbor," Dauby told Huff.

"I need to have the state police come in and remove (the barricades)," Huff responded. "I have a farmer ready to go in and plant crops, and hunters ready to go in."

"You've got a problem with a neighbor," Dauby told him. "You don't need us."

Pointing out the two families' relationship after the meeting, Fortwendel said, "it's a family squabble."