Road closure heard in court


Nothing gets Gonzales area residents fired up like a good debate over property rights. A little kerfuffle bubbled up at Monday's Gonzales County commissioners court meeting when one resident proposed shuttering a portion of a road that meandered through part of his ranch.

Nearby residents were none too pleased.

At issue was a petition signed by 10 residents in favor of closing CR 229 in Precinct 1 as it enters the property of Mike Walshak. He has a bit of open ranch land that the road crosses, with cattle guards on each end to keep in his livestock. Trash, theft, and speeding vehicles — plus the belief that the road is little-used — drove Walshak to approach commissioners with the idea.

The gravel road runs from Hwy. 90-A to CR 228, both of which are paved. The portion that was considered for closure was a link that is barely a mile in length that runs through the abandoned town of Maurin. The end that connects with CR 228 is unmarked and appears as a private entrance to the uninformed.

Walshak's other concern was the cattle guards that bookend the stretch through his ranch. The cattle guards were installed by the county at a time that both he and commissioners could not recall, relieving the need for a fence through the property, since it was owned by a single landowner. Both cattle guards are relatively narrow and have metal triangular “wings” that prevent livestock from wandering around them. The wings are often damaged by vehicles — school busses in particular, Walshak said — allowing for his cattle to escape. The damage was confirmed with a visit to the site, where hoof prints could be seen on either side of the guards. Walshak figured that closure of the road would be to everyone's benefit.

But some area residents attended to voice their sincerest opposition. In an exchange that a couple of times had to be cooled by County Judge David Bird, residents accused Walshak of proposing the closure for personal gain.

“The road has not been a problem since one landowner decided to not build a fence,” protested one resident. Access by emergency services, access during times of flood, mail delivery, school busses, and historical context were all reasons expressed against closure.

The road travels through the abandoned Maurin community. The Texas State Historical Association says that the town was named for a French stonemason in about 1889 as a station on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway. It once had a post office, general store, telephone connection, a rail station, and a population of 40 at its climax. The stone used in the construction of the Gonzales County Courthouse, old college, and several buildings came from a quarry there, which is still visible as a stock tank.

Although nothing remains of the town, residents decried the petition as closing down a part of Texas history. Valerie Tierny, who lives nearby on CR 353, said that a fence should be required instead of shutting down the road. She asked if every landowner in the county that holds land on both sides of a lane would be granted the same courtesy.

“Y'all don't ever use the road,” Walshak said, and that most motorists use the paved CR 228 instead. As you can imagine, that didn't go over well with the opposition.

“I didn't know we were going to cause WWIII here,” he said.

“That's enough,” ordered Bird as the crowd grew agitated again.

Pct. 1 Commissioner K.O. “Dell” Whiddon, who represents residents of that area, said that he could not support the closure based on the amount of opposition. That was pretty much all the rest of the commissioners needed to hear.

Without a motion to bring the debate before a vote, the action died. Walshak asked what the commissioners were going to do to address the cattle guards, and Bird said that discussions would be held with Whiddon to perhaps widen them so that the wings would not be destroyed any longer.

The meeting was adjourned a short time later after some routine housekeeping by commissioners.