Supervisors say they cannot cut a guardrail off a bridge along Highway F-48 West in order to provide access to the nearby property owned by Newton resident Ken Smith, who presented a motion to the board on July 12 requesting the county engineer restore the easement, or driveway, to its previous form.
The property is located just north of Westwood Golf Course and is a mostly empty lot. Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said granting Smith’s request would create safety issues. Smith frequently argued the county is preventing him access to his property, which Talsma repeatedly denied.
Smith, a local attorney, claims the abutting highway — known colloquially as Old Route 6 or Old 6 — was widened in 1950, and as a part of that deal agreed to put in an easement directly from the highway to a nearby lot. Smith said the easement would be made of hard surface rock and installed by the state.
Currently, the deed to the land is held by Home Key LC, which Smith said is owned by his wife and children. The property was put on the market last year and it had received offers. Home Key LC accepted an offer from a buyer who intends to build a warehouse with some retail space.
Prior to the sale, Smith said he was approached by the county and the city to buy the property and clean it up, knowing he had completed similar projects. While in the process of cleaning the property, Smith said he was notified of the upcoming bridge replacement project that would affect his property.
Smith produced letters to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors during his presentation that made reference to the easement and its replacement.
“There was no secret that there was an easement there,” Smith said. “There was no missing it. You can’t go out there now and miss that easement. It’s been there. It was there when Highway 6 was the main artery across this part of the United States. And it was used and used long after the bridge.”
Later on in the bridge project, Smith said a brand new culvert was delivered and was laid down at the “throat” of the easement. The culvert, Smith claimed, disappeared, and when he asked what happened to it he was told it was used somewhere else on the project. Smith doubts that.
“There is no culvert out there,” he said. “…That culvert is gone. I asked (County Auditor) Dennis (Parrott) about it. There was nothing he knew of that was turned in. He assumes the whole paperwork is closed. That culvert did not get installed at that easement. Now the easement has been reshaped and is domed.”
Smith went on to ask supervisors, “What do you do when there’s a mistaken made? In this case, I don’t think or I don’t know of anybody that had any evil designs towards my wife or kids or whatnot, but a mistake was made. So what do we do to cure that mistake? Is the burden on us?”
Jasper County officials have told Smith an oversight was made, or that someone “dropped the ball.” Smith presented a motion he says would fix the problem.
The motion has the county engineer prepare and activate a change order for the west, north side guardrail to be opened for ingress and egress to an easement north to the 2.93-acre parcel. It would also reestablish the radius/flange of the easement to its prior status before the bridge was reconstructed.
Jasper County Engineer Mike Frietsch said he sent a letter to Smith in September 2021 to saying his office reviewed the situation of the existing driveway entrance of the property, which had been blocked by the guardrail of the bridge construction.
“The corrective action that I found out from our department was that we would put in a new entrance on West 36th Street North, the west end of that where it juts out,” Frietsch said. “…Unfortunately, due to the road safety concerns, the guardrail cannot be modified.”
The former driveway also cannot be reinstated because of the current standards the nearby bridge was built to. Frietsch said the construction of the new driveway would need to be cleared with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to ensure compliance with state codes.
Although Talsma sympathized with Smith, he said the county cannot cut the guardrail and reestablish the driveway. It’s a “major safety concern,” Talsma said, especially with the amount of traffic coming down the road.
Talsma said, “I understand there was a lack of oversight or something didn’t get communicated or something got changed and it shouldn’t have and you lost a driveway coming off of F-48. And I don’t think anyone has ever denied responsibility for that.”
Talsma argued newer standards do no allow the county to put an access point so close to the bridge. But the county board of supervisors is “more than happy” to work with Smith to establish an access point from the west end of the property. Talsma said he does not understand why that is not acceptable to Smith.
“Nobody is trying to prevent you from having access to your property. Nobody is trying to take anything from you. Nobody is trying to do anything of the sort,” Talsma said. “What we’re simply stating is that due to today’s safety concerns, we cannot in good conscious cut the guardrail and allow major access that close to where that bridge now comes.”
Jasper County Supervisor Denny Carpenter said when the bridge project was sent to the Iowa Department of Transportation for a letting, there was a list of every standard that was required on that project. It is spelled out prior to the letting of the bridge so the contractor knows the exact standards, he said.
Smith said the land can be made into a valuable piece of property, but the county has to work with the owner. In this particular case, he said, all the county had to do was not close the easement. Smith claimed there was no legal requirement to close the easement. Talsma said two county engineers disagreed.
“I felt like this is something that had been this way before and there wasn’t any law requiring to be closed. And what happened is, in all honesty, is it screwed up. And now we’re being asked to face the screwed up,” Smith said.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or at email@example.com