By DOTTY NIST
After being on hold for more than six months, remaining portions of the Chat Holley Road improvement project are to be completed, including the installation of a traffic light at the road’s intersection with U.S. 331.
Chat Holley Road is an important route intersecting with U.S. 331 and running west just south of the Choctawhatchee Bay.
On Aug. 14, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved proceeding with the constuction of the signalized intersection, along with the improvement of a remaining short section of road.
Completed in January on Chat Holley Road were three miles of road widening, drainage improvements, and two new bridges, along with a multi-use path.
The county received grant funds from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for the road improvement project, and in 2010, DOT gave permission for $1.025 million in funds from the county’s Proportional Fair Share account to be used for right-of-way purchase and improvements at the intersection, which were to include the traffic light and turn lanes.
However the project encountered difficulties and delays. In September 2011, approximately a year after the purchase of a half-acre parcel at the Chat Holley Road/U.S. 331 intersection to be used as right-of-way, county officials and staff were made aware of a 1917 deed. The deed led to the question whether, in buying the parcel, the county had paid for property it had already owned. There was also an ownership dispute between the county and the Holley family, who own property near the east end of Chat Holley Road.
An independent review of the purchase transaction for the right-of-way parcel found that Walton County had not paid for property the county already owned. However, the independent counsels’ review revealed a history of survey problems in the area due to the lack of a government marker on the northeast corner of the section line directly north of the property—and the possibility of gaps or overlaps in that area between the county property and that of adjacent property owners. The counsels recommended that the county seek an agreement with those property owners to establish that boundary line.
Ownership issues in connection with the right-of-way parcel have up to now delayed construction of the remainder of road project and the intersection improvements.
Now, according to Louis Svehla, Walton County public information manager, the county attorney’s office has indicated that all boundary issues related to the right-of-way acquisition have been resolved. Svehla also said that a right turn lane planned for the county right-of-way parcel has been shortened to avoid impact on adjoining property owned by the Holley family.
It had previously been anticipated that it would be necessary to realign the intersection to a perpendicular alignment, but Svehla said DOT is not requiring this, and the intersection is to remain at an angle.
The intersection improvements are to include dedicated left and right turn lanes, along with the traffic light. The BCC recently approved that $437,701 be transferred from the Proportional Fair Share account to fund those improvements, along with the relocation of utilities, engineering and inspection costs. Svehla said the $437,701 is part of the $1.025 million in Proportional Fair Share funds that DOT previously approved for use on the intersection project.
A lawsuit filed against the county in October 2011 by Miramar Beach resident Suzanne Harris challenging the purchase of the right-of-way parcel is ongoing. However, allegations of improprieties in connection with the purchase transaction that were originally part of the lawsuit have either been dropped or struck from the complaint by the court. The one remaining count of the lawsuit alleges that the county violated the law through the retention of George Ralph Miller, the special legal council who oversaw the purchase transaction for the right-of-way parcel, outside of public session.
The remainder of the road project and the intersection improvements are to be constructed by the C.W. Roberts Company and are anticipated to be operational by mid-December.