BISBEE — There are many instances of illegal encroachment on the county’s public rights of way on a number of roads. What to do about it was discussed at a Cochise County Board of Supervisors work session Tuesday afternoon.
There can be instances where certain encroachments could be permitted, but that takes a request for a permit which property owners of the day’s discussion did not do.
While it may seem like an easy problem to solve — just get the owner to remove it — it isn’t, Morris said.
This subject is not new. In an audit performed a few years ago, 185 safety violations from encroachment were found, Supervisor Pat Call said.
Supervisor Ann English asked if letters had been sent to the property owners after the audit and wondered if the residents knew the liability they were open to by disobeying the law. According to Call, the county did send some letters out, but only to those on main streets, not side streets.
The letters did not produce results.
Morris showed a number of encroachment problems that are spread around the county.
One instance lies on San Marcos De Niza in Rancho Carmillo where the property owner has constructed a fence line right at the road’s edge. Another on Navaho Drive has a retaining wall built over a culvert pipe that extends into the public right of way. A dumpsite with numerous complaints on Dake Road has trash extending onto the roadway.
“We’re not handling these complaints consistently and we need to,” Morris said. “These are issues that take a lot of staff time.”
If a resident objects to removing the hazard and believes the structure is not in the public right of way, the county may have to survey the land to determine actual property lines, Morris said.
Ron Ellis, with the Highway and Floodplain Department, added, “It’s hard for us to enforce these issues. We want to be fair and we need the supervisors’ support.”
Ellis said the public rights of way should be entirely clear of any obstructions by Arizona law. And though some people do a nice job of landscaping with rock and boulders, the size of the rock should be four inches or smaller and should not extend into the right of way. That way if someone runs off the road, the driver will not be hitting rocks that can cause injury and severe damage to a vehicle.
Since some of the encroachments had been done by professional landscape companies, Call suggested letting those companies know about the regulations and leave it up to them to inform the residents.
Deputy County Attorney Adam Ambrose told the supervisors it would be in the county’s best interest to install signs indicating hazards ahead to warn drivers.
This raised the question, can the county use Highway User Revenue Funds to buy hazard signs to mitigate these problems on non-county maintained roads.
Ambrose said he would look into that, but thought that HURF money could be used only for signs on county-maintained roads.
Morris told the supervisors, “This is a no-win situation. And it’s made more difficult due to what’s gone on in the past. I suggest we draw a line in the sand and say this is how we’re going to deal with it.”
Mike Ortega, county administrator, cautioned, “This will take strong political will. This room will be packed with residents who oppose it. But from a risk standpoint, we should clear all encroachments.”
Morris and Young will take the draft of the policy they had prepared and rework it for presentation at a future work session. The policy also will have two components; one for county-maintained roads with rights of way and another for non-county maintained roads with public rights of way.