Judge rules in favor of Arenac Township in Hale Road hearing
ARENAC TOWNSHIP — It’s official. The easement from the South end of Hale Road stretching to Saginaw Bay is public property per 23rd Circuit Court Judge William Myles’ ruling on Dec. 10.
The issue of whether the easement was public or private property was heard in Arenac County’s Circuit Court on Oct. 30. Myles said the easement was public property on Dec. 10 because “The road (Hale Road), when it was constructed was to go to the water’s edge.”
He added that even though the Arenac County Road Commission doesn’t maintain the easement “doesn’t mean that the road doesn’t exist. … Hale Road gave access to the waters of Saginaw Bay when it was created.”
The ruling was contradictory to what some property owners on Hale Road, Audrey Lentz and Jeff Hartley, the defendants in the case who were represented by attorney William Carey of Grayling, were aiming for when they placed barriers in front of the unmaintained portion of the road, or the easement, in 2005. Myles, however, says the property owners’ actions were too late to force usage of the path to be discontinued.
“They’ve (fishermen, hunters, trappers) been accessing the Saginaw Bay from the gravel portion of Hale Road for decades,” Myles said, adding a road becomes a defined line of travel if it is used for “10 consecutive years without interruption.
“I saw no evidence where the defendants (Lentz and Harley) ever claimed ownership to that property till 2005.”
Myles also had instruction regarding the logs placed at the North end of the easement to block vehicles from traveling on it.
“Defendants are to remove the barrier at the end of Hale Road,” he said.
Before coming to his conclusion in a case he called “interesting and unusual,” Myles said he personally visited the area in dispute and also read closing arguments by Carey and Attorney Garner Dewey, who represented Arenac Township.
Still to be decided, though, is the width of the easement that is considered public property. Myles said in court that in his opinion the public area should be as wide as the roadway in the Road Commission-maintained portion of Hale Road. He suggested a surveyor decide the actual width.
Hartley and Lentz had claimed in court on Oct. 30 that “no trespassing” signs and fencing had been erected along the edges of the easement in the past, but users of the pathway didn’t respect the property markings, which is why logs were placed at the opening of the easement as a barrier.