Owners of timberland adjacent to land owned by a Monroe County commissioner have filed a civil action asking a judge to bar the commissioner from blocking their access to an easement used for logging.
The Wright Family 1959 H. H. Hardin Trust, through its trustee Suzanne W. Godfrey, filed a complaint for declaratory judgement against John Ambrose in Monroe County Superior Court last month.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order in the trust’s favor Feb. 5 that will hold until a March 3 hearing in the case, according to court records.
The trust owns about 100 acres in south Monroe County in a tract between Rumble and Dames Ferry roads, east of Interstate 75.
Since 1978, the land has been used for timber production. Half is a natural stand of hardwood and pine while the remainder is a planted pine plantation.
The trust contends the planted pines need to be thinned soon to maintain a good growth rate and to minimize the chance of pine beetle attacks.
Prescribed burning also is needed in the dense growth, as is inspection for pine beetle attacks, according to the complaint.
But the trust can’t access the land because Ambrose recently changed the lock on a gate trust beneficiaries use to access the easement, according to the complaint.
Ambrose said he and beneficiaries of the trust struck an agreement in 1992 after he bought his property.
The trust was allowed to continue using an access road running through his property in exchange for hunting rights on the timberland, he said.
In the beginning, Ambrose paid $50 annually for the hunting rights, but the price increased in subsequent years up to more than $500, he said.
Last year, he wasn’t given the option to hunt, Ambrose said.
In response, Ambrose sent the trust a letter in July changing the agreed access road, offering up a new location. He maintains he has a right to change the location of the easement as long as it’s at least 20 feet wide.
His attorney followed up with a letter in September that explained the use of the current access road has caused damage to Ambrose’s property, interfering with “game management, timber management and stream and pond management,” according to the letter.
The letter also said the current road exposes Ambrose to potential liability, and he’s fearful for the safety of people using the road during hunting season.
Ambrose alleges the complaint was filed as political retribution for decisions he’s made since taking office in January.
“All this is just harassment,” he said.
Ambrose said he tried to remove James Vaughn from the Monroe County Development Authority and has made decisions regarding the Monroe County Hospital Authority to which Vaughn also is a member.
Vaughn, a local lawyer, represents the trust in the civil action.
Contacted this week, Vaughn denied Ambrose’s allegation.
“This is a private property dispute that has been simmering for several years,” he said. “It has nothing to do with local government.”
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.