Friday, October 7, 2022

Jolly Pond motorists ask county, dam owner to evaluate ways to reopen unsafe roadway

In recent years, Jolly Pond Road over the dam has gradually deteriorated, culminating in a void developing beneath the roadway and rendering part of it unsafe for travel. (WYDaily/Courtesy of James City County)
In recent years, Jolly Pond Road over the dam has gradually deteriorated, culminating in a void developing beneath the roadway and rendering part of it unsafe for travel. (WYDaily/Courtesy of James City County)

The fate of Jolly Pond Road and whether the road will remain passable for through-traffic still hangs in the balance.

But there’s a little more time to figure out if there’s a way to reopen the road.

County administrators has deferred a decision on whether to abandon Jolly Pond Road where it crosses an 18th-century earthen dam, making it private and not passable without explicit permission from the property owner.

The road has gradually deteriorated where it crosses the dam, resulting in a void under part of the asphalt, and past efforts to find a simple, cost-effective way to keep the road open have been fruitless.

It has been closed to traffic since May 23.

The vote on abandoning the road was originally slated for Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, but will now be delayed one month, possibly longer, James City County Administrator Scott Stevens said.

Stevens said the delay will allow the county and residents to hash out the situation with dam owner William Kane — and see if he’s willing or able to fix the dam or privately open the road.

“I don’t want to say it’s an easy step to open it back up,” Stevens said. “I don’t believe it is.”

The delay in placing the issue on the agenda doesn’t necessarily mean circumstances have changed regarding the condition of the road, Stevens said.

“There really was a legitimate safety concern there,” Stevens said.

The road is still dangerous for crossing cars, and presents a liability for the county if it is reopened without significant fixes. The permitting process to work on the dam and the road is still a slow slog.

Finally, if the permits are approved, the question still remains about who would pay for the repairs; the dam does not belong to the county — only the roadway is county-owned.

In the past, Kane tried to keep the road open to be a good neighbor, he told supervisors during a work session last month.

The Virginia Department of Transportation used to maintain the segment of Jolly Pond Road over the dam, but elected to close the road in 2009 because of safety concerns.

“VDOT wouldn’t fix it before because they were struggling with all the same issues we are now,” Stevens said.

The road was closed to traffic for about three years, then reopened after James City County took over ownership of that segment and conducted several repairs.

Community backlash

The decision on abandoning the road was delayed and removed from Tuesday’s agenda because several residents asked the county and land owner to explore options other than simply abandoning the road.

The residents met with county officials and Supervisor Michael Hipple, who represents the district containing the Jolly Pond Dam.

During the meeting, residents asked the county whether there was a sense of urgency to immediately abandon the road, or if the county could wait to see if it could help reopen the road.

“I have a lot of empathy for the residents there,” Stevens said. “It’s been there, to my knowledge, for a very long time.”

A ‘bureaucratic standoff’

The county would need an alteration permit from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to do any work to fix the issue beneath the asphalt.

The county does not have an engineering study completed for the road or the dam, but Stevens said the work could potentially be significant to fix the dam issues beneath the roadway.

For the county to get the alteration permit, Kane would need to get an operations and maintenance permit from the DCR, which has also proven to be difficult.

During the Board of Supervisors work session May 21, Supervisor Jim Icenhour called the situation a “bureaucratic standoff.”

That begs the question: Who pays for these repairs?

If permits are properly given and Kane gives permission for the county to work on his property — which he said he likely would — the project could still top $2 million.

Because the dam is privately owned, Stevens said he would not advise the county to pay for a large-scale project. He added the county could discuss a smaller payment if the road can reopen with a smaller investment.

“If it was a few thousand dollars, I’d call that a part of county road maintenance and do it,” Stevens said. “I wouldn’t be beyond a reasonable amount of money. But it’s looking more expensive.”

It is unclear whether Kane would or could pay for major work on the dam.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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