County offers no answers to Fleetwood Fire Department
Last modified: Nov. 8, 2012
Despite more than five weeks of study, the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department could be forced — at the cost of its member's time and the department's money — to remove belowground water tank they installed on what they believed was Ashe County property.
Except the land doesn't belong to Ashe County — the North Carolina Department of Transportation currently holds that piece of property for use in the widening of 221.
“Let me make sure I understand (this),” said Ashe County Commissioner Gerald Price on Oct. 15. “The Fleetwood Fire Department has got a tank on a piece of property for 99 years that they thought belonged to the county of Ashe. Is that correct?”
“That is correct,” said Mitchell.”
Commissioners first sparred over the issue on Oct. 15, when the board denied multiple members of the FVFD the chance to speak and ask questions of the commissioners during their general session meeting. The board ultimately decided to table discussion until their Nov. 5 to further study the matter.
On the property in question, located off Clarence Lyall Road in Fleetwood, the FVFD sunk a belowground water tank for emergency use, on property close to where the Old Fields voting house once stood.
Combined with the land clearing and site preparation process, and the purchase and plumbing of the 10,000-gallon water tank the FVFD spent more than $15,000 to prepare the tank for use.
“We found out, in doing a deed search that (the property owner), seven years ago, deeded that property over to DOT (for) right of way,” said Mitchell. “So the state actually owns the piece of property next to us. And it's the DOT property on which the tank is right now.”
Now, the FVFD is worried about access to its tank — and whether they'll be forced to uncover and move the tank somewhere else at the cost of its member's time and money.
Ashe County Commissioners Judy Poe said the FVFD was given permission to bury the tank at its current location, but said the department was told to wait until that area was surveyed again.
“The county told them to hold off on that tank until the area was surveyed again,” said Poe. “There were some questions about those lines at the time.”
The lease, signed on July 11, 2011, on “land between Clarence Lyall road and US 221 south (on) parcel 13194-153, would give the FVFD access to the tank through 2099.
In an Oct. 31 email to Poe and Ashe County Commission Vice Chair Larry Rhodes, Mitchell said she spoke with FVFD Board Chairman Rick Surber on Oct. 30 about the lease.
“He made the point that if Fleetwood put the tank on what was identified as our Tax Parcel ID, then the lines didn't really matter — it was on our property,” wrote Mitchell. “I told him that I thought the official survey of the property “trumped” any tax parcel record but I would check with (Ashe County Attorney John) Kilby.”
After speaking with Kilby on the morning of Oct. 31, according to Mitchell, “the survey is a legal document that gives the actual boundaries, where the parcel ID's may not be an exact representation of actual lines. The tank is not on our property and not on the property they leased.”
Surber disputes that statement however.
“(Gambill) spoke with us and told us that we needed to wait on the water tanks until they resolved a dispute with an adjoining property owner,” said Surber. “As far as we knew, the only adjoining owner was Steve (Halsey).”
Surber said the fire department spoke with Halsey about the tank, understood clearly where his property line was, and began to prepare the area to sink the tank which included removing the dilapidated Old Fields Voting House, clearing the site of brush and trees, bush hogging and cleaning the property.
“The safe and easy access to the 10,000 gallons water source is certainly an asset to the property owners of the Old Fields water site area as well as a convenient additional water source for all the fire services,” read a letter written by Surber and Craven to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
Members of the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department, including Surber and Fire Chief Steve Craven said they are concerned the county could force them to move their tanks, and then use the land for a building to house Ashe County Rescue Squad equipment.
According to a Sept. 6, 2011 Ashe County Commissioner's work session Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill told the board “that the Ashe County Rescue Squad has requested to build several bays on a lot at the Old Fields Voting House property,” read the minutes. “The bays would be used for truck storage only. There would be no need for water and sewage services.”
The minutes further said that the site needed to be surveyed and that the rescue squad would be responsible for the survey.
“Having emergency trucks located at this site would allow faster response to emergencies with the growth expected due to future widening and improvements to (US) 221,” read the minutes.
“So while that was going on, that land had already been leased to us for three months,” said Craven. “Why this talk about the Rescue Squad? We just hope they don't ask us to move these tanks, and then give that area to the rescue squad.”
Mitchell said the county talked about the possibility of using the property for a rescue building.
“It's been mentioned somewhere, and I'm not exactly sure where the rescue squad came into all this … but when the conversation started that, as 221 widens, would it be smart to have rescue out there?” said Mitchell. ‘Would that benefit the citizens? It probably would. Would it fit out there? I don't know.' So we started investigating that.”
Mitchell said the county discussed the possibility of using the property for a rescue squad, “But it was never from the stance that we needed to have a rescue building out there and then everything else would fall into place. It's been interpreted that way, and I'm sorry, but that's not how the conversation started.”
The possibility remains that the NCDOT will not require Fleetwood to move the tank, according to Mitchell, who said the county may be able to convince the DOT to sign the piece of property in question to the county.
Such a move would resolve the issues surrounding the tank.
“We have contacted DOT in the hopes they might deed that over to us,” said Mitchell. “This is a reply I received last week from Mike Petty John, ‘The right-of-way and the control of access committee has this item on their agenda every month and are waiting until they are sure (to see) if the right-of-way is needed for 221. I should be able to have an answer before long, however, I just don't know when that is."
Independent of the issues surrounding the FVFD water tanks, Clarence Lyall Road business owner Steve Halsey still has no concrete answers from the county on a proposed property swap that could give him unrestricted access to his business.
Currently, the driveway for Halsey's trucking business crosses Ashe County property. For months, the county has worked to reach an agreement with Halsey that would allow both to exchange equal pieces of property (.070 acres for .070 acres) that would allow Halsey better access to his business, but would also give the county more usable land in the area.
Since starting his business 28 years ago, Halsey has always crossed over county property to enter and exit his business.
"I've told everybody that I would work with them if I could," said Halsey during yesterday's work session. "The way it is right now, I can't take a 53 foot trailer and get in and out of my business like it is. I feel like, the whole time, I've been kind of pushed into (the land swap) one way or another, and that I'd have to make other arrangements. I just don't want to lose my way of getting my customers in and out.”
Halsey echoed the concerns of the FVFD and said he doesn't feel the property swap is being done to give him the unrestricted use of his business driveway, but to make room for rescue squad facilities.
“Robert Poe and Patty (Gambill) has been out there every time together and it was a thing about Robert getting that piece of property for a rescue building,” said Halsey.
Commissioner Judy Poe told Halsey that if he was against the land swap in any way that the “the whole thing is off.”
“All I thought we were trying to do was straighten your property,” said Poe. “But if you're against it, that's fine by me.”