St. Mary's Road Gate With Lock

Pictured is the gate that was constructed in October over St. Mary’s Road at the only entrance to the Chouteau Claim Access Conservation Area Thursday, Jan. 7. The Franklin County Commission has decided not to vacate St. Mary’s Road.

 

Commissioner Says He Misspoke About Gate,

Push to Vacate Road Is Dead

The stretch of St. Mary’s Road that leads to the Chouteau Claim Access will remain open, according to Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson. 

“We are not vacating the road,” Hinson said. “I shredded the commissioner’s order the day we left the chamber. People showed up, raised their opinion and said why they didn’t think we should be doing that.”

Hinson also clarified comments he made during a public hearing held on Monday, Jan. 4, regarding the possible closure of St. Mary’s Road. 

“I misstated that the property owner put the gate up. What I meant to say was that the county put the gate up, but it was the property owner who put the lock on the gate,” Hinson said. 

Franklin County Highway Administrator Jim Grutsch also confirmed to The Missourian that the county erected the gate. 

“Franklin County fabricated the gate using materials that we had on hand. We installed the gate just as we have done on other roads in the county, but the gate was not locked or closed by the county or anyone associated with the county highway department,” Grutsch said. 

He said, “We built the gate. The people who built the gate work directly for me. They were instructed to build the gate by me.”  

According to Grutsch, the county placed the gate on the road because it is prone to flooding. 

“As with the other county roads that are subject to flooding, for the safety and well-being of the county citizens, we put the gate there,” Grutsch said. “If we simply put up a barricade, people would just drive around the barricade, into the ditch and that only compounds the problem.” 

Grutsch’s reasons for the gate run contrary to the reasons cited by the Franklin County commissioners during the public hearing. 

In the hearing, Hinson and Presiding County Commissioner Tim Brinker said the gate was not paid for by the county or placed by the county’s order. Brinker was out of the office and not available to comment until Monday, Jan. 11, according to county staff. 

Hinson specifically said one of the owners “misinterpreted what was going on and put up the gate” following a meeting with the county commission and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  

According to the commissioners on Monday, Jan. 4, the gate was placed because the property owner was trying to harvest his crops and was frustrated by people driving into his fields. 

Pictures of the gate circulated on social media and sparked outcries from users of the Chouteau Claim Access, which is the confluence of the Meramec and Bourbeuse rivers. 

Users called both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Franklin County Commission, which contacted the property owners to insist they reopen the road and gate.

“A mountain really got made out of a mole hill,” Hinson said.

On Thursday, several of the people who use the conservation area welcomed the news that the road would stay open and would not be vacated. 

“It is great news. I think, this is one time, that the citizens of Franklin County used social media to overturn a decision for the benefit of everyone,” Robert “Bob” Willoughby said. 

Both Willoughby and Joyce Halterman said they were not buying into the newest explanation about the gate offered by county leaders. 

“I smell a rat in county government,” Halterman said. “They can say that all they want, but they bald-faced lied to us. ... I won’t forget this.” 

Willoughby echoed it, “Cowturds — and that is being nice. He didn’t misspeak. He knew exactly what he was saying, he just didn’t think there would be any pictures out there.”