published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Aetna Mountain landowner seeks access to property

State signs warning off-roaders to steer clear of state property are posted on a tree near the edge of the We Rock campground property. The We Rock group, who operate a campground at the base of Aetna Mountain, have come into conflict with the Black Creek development group.
State signs warning off-roaders to steer clear of state property are posted on a tree near the edge of the We Rock campground property. The We Rock group, who operate a campground at the base of Aetna Mountain, have come into conflict with the Black Creek development group.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

JASPER, Tenn. — A landowner on Aetna Mountain claims that access to his property has been blocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and he wants the Marion County Commission to resolve the issue.

Steve Perlacky, who owns about 500 acres in Marion County, said TWRA has posted signs on Aetna Mountain Road prohibiting motor vehicles.

Tennessee law states basically that the matter has to come to county leaders because it deals with a public road, Perlacky said, and it's up to the board to file a lawsuit if it discovers a violation.

"I need help," Perlacky said at a recent County Commission meeting. "I can't get to my property right now. This is a problem. I could hike there, but if I can't drive there, it's a significant disadvantage for enjoying my property that I'm paying taxes on."

Commission Chairman Les Price said suing TWRA probably isn't possible, regardless of any statute violation.

"I don't think the County Commission can sue the TWRA," he said. "We're part of the same group they're a part of."

TWRA Wildlife Program Manager Kirk Miles says the land is, in fact, private and no longer than a quarter-mile. The signs have been up for about a year, and they are in place to stop people from driving on the Cummings Cove Wildlife Management Area. The property hosts deer, turkeys and small game like rabbits and squirrels.

Miles said Perlacky can access his property in other ways, and the blocked accessway isn't a road, it's more like a jeep trail.

"You wouldn't even get up to where these signs are without riding on an ATV or a four-wheel-drive vehicle," he said.

Jasper Mayor Paul Evans, who also owns property on the mountain adjoining TWRA's land, said he has spoken with Perlacky about the issue before and disagrees with his position.

"I disagree with him 100 percent," Evans said. "I wish [TWRA] had closed it off a long time ago because it's destroying my property. They have closed that road off because the road is impassable. You cannot get from one end to the other unless you're on a four-wheeler or some kind of off-road [vehicle]. This is not a road in Marion County."

"I believe he is mistaken," Perlacky said. "If you look at my tax records, I own 500 acres of property in Marion County."

County Road Superintendent Neal Webb backed Evans' claim and said the road is not a public road on the Marion County side of the mountain.

"TWRA has been to my office, and they have maps and everything," he said. "It does not involve us at all. It is not a Marion County road on that side [of the mountain]."

Perlacky said he has spent more than $250,000 in legal fees over 10 years fighting for access to his property on the Hamilton County side of the mountain, and he believes a 2010 order from the state that agrees the road is public property stands in terms of the access up Aetna Mountain Road.

"I just want to get to my property," he said. "I'm paying taxes on it, but I can't get to it right now."

County Attorney Billy Gouger said he will investigate the matter and attempt to "reconcile" the different sides of it by the next board meeting on Feb. 25.

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