St. Helena Police Jury hears debate on status of Pine Grove-area road

A dispute between two Pine Grove-area landowners over road access could affect business for a Denham Springs-based dirt and gravel company that holds a mining lease on the property.

Marc Dyess asked the St. Helena Parish Police Jury on Tuesday night to remove a gate that has been erected on Rudison Lane, off Calmes Road south of Pine Grove. The gate blocks access to Rudison, which Dyess said is a parish road, and prevents him from reaching a piece of property he owns at the end of Rudison, he said.

Neighboring landowner Clifford Rudison said he put up the gate to prevent children living along Calmes Road from exploring the property and, in particular, the land he leased to Southern Aggregates LLC for mining.

Rudison, whose family has owned the property surrounding Rudison Lane since at least 1925, disputes whether the lane is a parish road but said he has made sure Dyess has a key to the locked gate so he can access his property at any time.

“I don’t understand why there’s a problem if I’m giving access,” Rudison said. “But I’m telling you now that if that gate comes down, I’m going to shut down production and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs.

“It’s too much liability to have to worry about kids coming on the property, getting hurt or getting in trouble, and I don’t want that on my conscience,” Rudison said.

Dyess said he should not have to go through another landowner to get access to a parish road and pointed to a 2008 letter written by former Police Juror Frank Johnson confirming the road’s public status.

But Rudison questioned how the lane could have become a parish road in the first place.

“Neither me nor my brother ever gave permission for the parish to have that road, and neither did our daddy or ancestors,” Rudison said.

Police Jury legal adviser Cliff Speed said the parish may have acquired a right of way for the road under state law if parish workers maintained the road for three years without objection from the landowners.

About 90 percent of the public roads in St. Helena Parish were acquired in that manner, rather than through formal donation and dedication, Speed said.

If the parish failed to maintain the road for a 10-year stretch, however, the government could have lost its right of way and access rights would revert to the original landowner, Speed said.

Rudison said the road has not been maintained by the parish since his father’s death in 1993 and their last Rudison Lane neighbor’s death soon thereafter.

Johnson, the former juror, said the parish’s maintenance personnel had worked the road while Rudison’s father and two other men had homes on the lane, but Johnson could not say what happened after that.

Dyess said the road had a parish road sign and a stop sign as recently as 2008, but both have since disappeared.

Juror Major Coleman said the parish needs to investigate whether the road was consistently maintained in order to determine its status and make a decision about the gate.