An ante litem notice has been filed against the county regarding the blocking of what was formerly used as access to the Flint River at Flat Shoals Bridge. The access area was used for decades by local residents to enjoy the Flint River and it was blocked when a driveway was built directly across it – complete with a large culvert – during the last days of October 2021.
The blocked area does not belong to homeowners in the nearby The Shoals subdivision but was property of the state when the bridge was built and now also under the control of the county since they took over maintenance of Flat Shoals Road. According to information obtained at that time, the driveway permit was granted to The Shoals subdivision HOA president Thomas Morgan. A land easement (which was filed June 11, 2021) from Ark Builder Inc. granted Morgan a 50-foot strip of land across the southern boundary of the lot adjacent to the access area for $10. Morgan owns a home on the northern end of The Shoals subdivision, not where the driveway was built.
Many residents expressed outrage about the blocked access and some started a petition which garnered 197 supporters.
“God’s beauty should be accessible to everyone. This river is like church to some. Some of us need it for peace of mind, heart and soul. I know I sure do,” said Hope Mitchell who was in favor of creating a public access point at the Flat Shoals Road bridge.
The ante litem letter lists claimants as, “Walker Chandler, and any citizens of Pike County who may wish to be included in the threatened lawsuit,” and the problem is listed as “Driveway permit granted to Tom Morgan that allegedly allowed him to construct a massive barrier to prevent the launching of trailer-borne boats and endangers foot traffic on right of way with two rock barriers. Also the existence of rocks/boulders on the right of way alongside the entrance to The Shoals subdivision.”
The ante litem letter claims wrongful violation of county permitting processes, tolerating interference with public access to the Flint River and tolerating public and private nuisances.
In a previous article, county attorney Rob Morton noted that river access has been an issue many times over the years and the property lines were last identified and title searches done around 2009 when riprap rocks were placed at the water to keep people from getting out beside the bridge.
“I’m not aware of another public access other than that one in the county. All the access to the Flint River in Pike County is on private land,” he said. “This is in the right of way and from past experience, the county’s right of way went to the fence line.”
Shortly after public complaints were raised about the road being blocked, Morgan said he and other river property owners are taxed up to the middle of the channel of the river and there is no right to access in Pike for non-river property owners. He noted the Flint River through Pike is not a navigable river in the legal sense because it does not support freight traffic as the law states. He also said the county does not own the right of way as a titled property owner to the access ramp at the bridge. He claims the county only has a servitude or right to control the right of way for purposes of the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.
“Only the temporary stopping on right of ways for the purposes of letting someone off or on the right of way is actually allowed,” he said, adding that the county will never declare the area as a public boat ramp since they would be liable for personal injuries and property damage. “I have to set the record straight for people who think the river is public – it is not. According to state law, the ‘river here is wholly and absolutely private.’ People can get out on the other side of the bridge, it’s a long trek to the river, but it’s there. But the problem is, that’s also private property.”