Farm family opposes connector road in Ga. 96 project

wcrenshaw@macon.comMay 6, 2013 

hwy_96

Evelyn Ferguson stands in a pasture of her Houston County cattle farm. A planned connector road would cut the land in half.

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BONAIRE -- A relatively minor aspect of the Ga. 96 widening project is a major deal to 87-year-old Evelyn Ferguson and her two sons.

A short, two-lane connector road that is part of the project splits their small cattle farm in half, and they say it will put them out of business. The farm has been in their family since the 1930s, when Ferguson’s father-in-law plowed it with a mule.

“I don’t like it worth a toot,” is how she summed up her feelings about the road.

Ferguson owns the property, about 144 acres, and her two sons, Bill and Eddie, run the cattle operation. She has lived on the farm since 1944, and her two sons live on adjacent tracts.

They have about 60 beef cattle, and the only way to move them safely from one side of the planned road to the other would be on a trailer, they said. They would have to buy a bigger truck and bigger trailer to do that.

“It wouldn’t be practical,” Eddie Ferguson said, as he stood on a spot where the road will cut through the farm.

Bill Ferguson said it isn’t just how the road will affect them personally that drives his opposition to it. He doesn’t believe it’s necessary and is holding out hope the Georgia Department of Transportation will drop it from the widening plans.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The $100 million project would widen Ga. 96 to five lanes from Thompson Mill Road, just east of the Fergusons’ farm, to Interstate 75. Work is expected to begin this year.

The portion that affects the Fergusons creates a new Ga. 96 just north of the current one and reconnects it near Moody Road. That part also has been controversial because many of the landowners affected believe widening should have been done on the existing route. The state said the road was shifted because of a planned overpass for Ga. 247 and the railroad.

The state offered Evelyn Ferguson $70,600 for the 12 acres that will be taken up by the road, which will run from just east of Bonaire Middle School on the current Ga. 96 to the new Ga. 96, tying into Old Hawkinsville Road. She thinks the figure should be $2 million.

In an email, DOT spokeswoman Kimberly Larson wrote that the road is needed to maintain a connection between the old Ga. 96 and Old Hawkinsville Road and to accommodate traffic that previously used Ammons Road. As part of the project, Ammons Road will dead end on either side of the new Ga. 96 due to its proximity to the planned overpass, Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

“This connection provides a useful link between Old SR 96 and Relocated SR 96,” Larson wrote in the email. “The most direct alignment was proposed for this facility. The department’s appraiser performed a thorough inspection of the property and analyzed all aspects in order to determine the fair market value.”

The state projects the road will be traveled by 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles per day, but Bill Ferguson said he doesn’t believe it will be anywhere close to that.

He said the appraiser never talked to his family before making an offer on the property. He believes the state did not take into account the effect the road would have on their business.

All of the road is on the Fergusons’ property.

Evelyn Ferguson got a condemnation notice in October, and the family is planning to fight it in court. A date has not been set. However, the court hearing would be over the value of the property only, not whether the road should be built at all.

Bill Ferguson said they have an attorney working on the case but have not decided whether to try to stop the road through legal action.

Many landowners in the same situation might find the road to be a great stroke of fortune. The Fergusons said the state has told them the road would make their property prime for development, but that doesn’t sway them.

“We don’t want to develop it,” Bill Ferguson said.

He added that he isn’t against the widening project itself, just the connector road.

Stalnaker said the county didn’t ask for the road to be included in the project, but he said he believes it is needed because it will offer a better route to Old Hawkinsville Road once the widening is complete.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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