Dispute back in court

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Location of disputed road

Decision whether to reverse previous judge’s decision on Beaufort County road, boat ramp could take months

By Mindy Lucas

An effort to overturn a Beaufort County judge’s earlier decision in a case involving a dispute over a road and boat ramp on Warsaw Island has landed in South Carolina Court of Appeals.

For years, the 30-foot road and boat ramp at the end of the road had been used by island residents and others in neighboring communities, but in 2018, it was blocked and closed by a Beaufort County man who claims he owns the road.

Ruben Adams, who purchased a one-acre strip of land adjoining the road just a few years before putting up a gate across it, claimed that a Quiet Title action settled in 1990 which granted the relative of a neighboring family the narrow strip, also included the road and boat ramp.

However, the Gardner family, which has maintained the road and boat ramp for generations, paid taxes on both and has a previous survey which shows both were owned by Charles Gardner’s father, claim they are the rightful owners.

Up until the road was blocked, they also used it to access their own home and property on the other side of the road.

In 2018, Judge Perry M. Buckner III handed down a summary judgment giving Adams ownership of the road and ramp in addition to the property he purchased in 2015.

In a meeting held via Webex on April 6, judges with the appellate court heard arguments from both sides. As of press time, the court had not handed down a decision. An attorney for the Gardner family said it could take several months before a decision is rendered.

In the meantime, the road continues to remain closed and those who once used it to access Jenkins Creek and beyond have been unable to access waterways from the northern side of the island.

A class action lawsuit was filed in 2019 by those who say their work or livelihood has been negatively impacted by Adams’ closing of the road and ramp, including at least one bait shop owner and researchers with Charles River Laboratories who were using the access point to travel back and forth to Morgan Island, commonly referred to as “Monkey Island.”

At the recent hearing in appeals court, at least one judge seemed to be at odds with Judge Buckner’s 2018 decision saying there wasn’t much in the earlier record.

“I’m trying to put together how Judge Buckner got to the conclusion, where he reached his conclusion,” said Judge Stephanie McDonald.

McDonald, who said the language in the 1990s Quiet Title action which refers to the road as a “county road” in at least two places, presented ambiguity.

“My issue is I don’t think anybody owns this road,” she said. “I think it’s a county road, but I think that might be the ambiguity that may be throwing me off.”

McDonald also took issue with Adams’ attorney referring to the language in Buckner’s judgment as “precise and tight” as he made his argument.

“I wouldn’t call it tight and precise,” she said. “I would call it not much of a record.”

She went on to say she was concerned how the language of the Quite Title order could be interpreted to find that anybody owned the road.

“… If Mr. Adams … doesn’t own it either, you don’t need to put a gate and septic tank or block access,” she said.

Mindy Lucas is the Beaufort reporter for The Island News and is a staff writer for Lowcountry Weekly. She can be reached at mindy.islandnews@gmail.com.


Related Stories:

The Road Not Taken — Dispute over Warsaw Island boat ramp, road erupts into class action suit, community upheaval

Judge: Allow road to be surveyed

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