There is a stretch of road along the city line of North Newton causing a bit of consternation and conflict between Harvey County and the city of North Newton.
“This is a roadway that historically the county has maintained,” said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator.
There is work needed on a stretch of the road — likely an asphalt overlay on what North Newton City Manager John Torline called the “mains section” of the road that borders North Newton.
But who will pay for that work is where things become convoluted. For decades the county worked with KDOT when work was needed on the road. However, KDOT has, apparently, washed their hands of the road by filing quit claim deeds to divest themselves of all interest in the road.
The county was looking at doing some more work on NW 36th between K-15 and Anderson Ave. It was during the decision making process of what would be done — and who would be paying for what — that the conflict arose.
For decades the road was, at least partially, owned by the Kansas Department of Transportation. When Harvey County worked on portions of the road owned by KDOT, there would be an agreement hammered out.
However, this time, things are a little different.
“KDOT informed us that it is no longer their roadway,” Swartzendruber said.
That's where the driving gets a little rough, and why North Newton has been asked to take a seat in the car.
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the roadway now belongs to North Newton — the result of quit claim deed filings by KDOT.
About 10 years ago North Newton was pursuing a grant for a prairie restoration project north of the road, on two acres between the town and Interstate I-135. At the time, KDOT owned the right of way for a small parcel of land the city wanted to improve.
The county signed a letter of support for that project when it was being planned and applied for.
KDOT deeded that property over to North Newton, by quit claim deed, and the project was completed. There is now a interpretive marker like those along the Sand Creek Trail at the site, along with prairie grass and flower plantings. The area was not annexed into the city limits.
About a year later, KDOT attempted to file a quit claim deed for the roadway as well — something acknowledged by North Newton City Manager John Torline.
“Unbeknownst to us KDOT filed a quit claim deed on not only (the two acres) but a section of 36th street to us,” Torline said. “We did not know about that for years. We never accepted, nor did we dispute the quit claim deed on those two acres of 36th street.”
Both the county, and The Newton Kansan, have copies of the quit claim deed.
There is another question, as well. Even if North Newton owns the road — which Torline says the city does not — North Newton is asking why the county would not maintain the road.
“It is not within the corporate limits of North Newton,” Torline said. “Even if it were in the corporate limits of North Newton, the county would be obligated statutorily to maintain it as a connecting link. … You get the heavy … trucks going down that section, and the city has no responsibility for maintaining a city street for heavy trucks who originate in the county, or whose destination is somewhere in the county or outside the corporate limits.”
There is a state statute about counties maintaining roads within cities, though county administration does not believe the statute applies in this case. That statute states the county can be responsible for two lanes of a road.
There are examples of roads maintained by the county in the Burrton and Hesston areas that are maintained by the county, including roads that run right through a town. However, according to Harvey County, those roads are not owned by a city.
“We could not come up with any road that we maintain that is owned by a city in a rural part of the county,” Swartzendruber said.
“We contend that it is the county's road to maintain,” Torline said. “The county has always maintained it, we have not, nor have we accepted responsibility for it. … The county is statutorily obligated to maintain connecting links, even if those go through city limits.”
To complicate matters in this issue, Greg Nye serves as legal council for both the city and the county. He is unable to advise either entity as this plays out.
In the meantime, there has been a drainage structure put in place, without approval from the county. Along the roadway in question, there are three entrances to the road — one a field access, one put in place recently for a water tower built by North Newton and a third just east of K-15 as an entrance to the new Norrthwoods Plaza under construction.
In the case of the water tower, North Newton again dealt with KDOT. KDOT owned an easement where the city wanted to place the tower
“We did request a quit claim deed on the site where the water tower is,” Torline said. “They gave us a quit claim deed for that, and an additional section of 36th street. The difference there is we requested a quit claim deed. In addition to the quit claim deed, we had to pay the underlying property owner $50,000.”