COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The drive down Marble Lane in Colleton County is difficult, to say the least.
“It is a nightmare,” said one of the neighbors. “No one wants to drive down this road. We only do it because we have to. We live on this road.”
Aaron Dandrige and the nine other families that use the short dirt road to access their homes say the condition of the road has rapidly deteriorated over the past 10 years.
“I am a contractor and have a lot of tools in my car,” said Dandridge. “I hit some of these bumps and you know I am thinking I am going to ruin something. It’s my livelihood,” he added.
According to neighbors, delivery services and bus drivers no longer drive down the road:
“If we order something offline I have to drive 18 miles away to go pick it up. The school bus doesn’t come down my neighborhood to pick up my kid.”
Art Steinmeyer said the lack of access to his home is a real danger for his wife, who is bed-ridden and needs frequent care. He worries for the ambulance drivers.
“They come to help and they are tearing up their cars,” he said. “With her condition and it is imperative they get here in a hurry,” he continued.
Steinmeyer said the road was last serviced 18 years ago. Since then he has been trying to get the issue addressed.
Colleton County officials confirmed the road is owned by U.S. Land & Timber. According to documents obtained from the Secretary of State, the company’s president is J. Barnwell Fishburne, the Chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
The News 2 Investigators contacted Fishburne to notify him of the sub-par road conditions negatively impacting residents.
In response, the investigators received a letter from George W. Cone, an attorney on behalf of U.S. Land & Timber. They say the responsibility for upkeep is with the residents.
Residents say they were never made aware of that agreement.
The letter states, “U. S. Land and Timber, Inc. sold lots on Marble Lane in the 1990’s and left road maintenance up to the purchasers/owners of the properties on the road, and the then property owners understood this.”
The letter notes that U.S. Land and Timber sold the parcels of land off Marble Lane more than twenty years ago. None of the present owners were original buyers.
“I feel sure the status of Marble Lane was disclosed to each of the present owners when they purchased their parcel on Marble Lane, by the attorney representing them in their purchase,” wrote Cone.
Neighbors tell a different story. One man said that the people who sold him the house told him the road was maintained by the County.
Current County Ordinances require a Road Maintenance Agreement for a private road to be documented in writing at the time of the purchase. That agreement places responsibility on residents, and should be conveyed to subsequent home buyers.
News 2 searched public records for the properties. We found deeds, titles, mortgages, foreclosures, loans, plats, and more for the original owners of the properties as well as subsequent owners. We were unable to locate any document referencing a Road Maintenance Agreement.
Cone said that in the 1990’s, the agreement was made “in keeping with the common practice at the time and in compliance with County Ordinances at the time.”
News 2 requested documentation of the alleged agreement from Cone, but Cone did not provide one. In his response, he put the blame on the real estate agents and attorneys of the property owners, saying that they should have disclosed the status of the road at the time of purchase.
Cone claimed the road does not violate any county ordinances, but said that he “feels sure, U.S. Land & Timber, Inc. would be glad to deed any interest it still has in Marble Lane to the County, to the property owners, or to any property owners association they establish.”
He said that he was willing to meet with the residents and hear them out.
However, expensive repairs would have to be done to get the road up to County standards before the county would take ownership. Cone did not indicate whether U.S. Land & Timber, Inc. would be willing to foot the bill for those repairs.
While Cone claims U.S. Land & Timber, Inc. is not violating any laws or County Ordinances, residents feel the moral obligation still remains.
Neighbors say they don’t care who owns the road, so long as someone is being held accountable.
“We are just completely desperate out here,” said one neighbor.
Another neighbor summed up the simple but urgent plea:
“We want someone to take responsibility. Either Mr. Fishburne or the County. And help us get this road fixed.”