The Douglas County Commission probably will not have to step in and resolve a fence dispute between two farm families after all.
Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the fence dispute Wednesday night and possibly hand down a ruling. But they agreed to table the matter indefinitely after County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the farmers were close to a settlement of their own.
The dispute was brought to the commission under a state law dating back to the 1860s that gives county commissions the power to resolve such disputes through a process called a "fence viewing."
That requires all three commissioners to go out to the site and physically walk the fence line to determine how much responsibility each party has for maintaining and repairing parts of the fence. There is no charge to the disputing parties for the service. Commissioners are paid $7.50 each for their time.
That's what Commissioners Mike Gaughan, Nancy Thellman and Jim Flory had to do May 15, after several failed attempts by county officials to mediate a settlement.
The fence viewing law can only be used to resolve fence disputes on farm land in unincorporated parts of the county. Weinaug said that in the 21 years he has worked for Douglas County, the Dunn-Barrett dispute was only the second he had seen be appealed to the commission for a fence viewing.
The dispute involved two families who raise cattle on adjoining land just north of Baldwin City along Eisenhower Road.
On one side of the fence, Robin Dunn has cattle on land that she leases from her aunt and uncle, Sally and Raymond Dunn. On the other side, Tim and Susan Barrett have cattle on land they lease from Margaret Counts, who is elderly and no longer farms herself.
At one time, the Barretts had leased both parcels of land and had removed a portion of the fence to give cattle on one side access to a stock pond on the other. However, when Robin Dunn took over the lease, she replaced that part of the fence.
Elsewhere, trees and vegetation have grown along the fence line creating gaps that continued to allow cattle to cross cross back and forth.
The proposed settlement, which Weinaug said had been worked out by an attorney and agreed to verbally but not yet signed, identifies specific segments of the fence and assigns responsibility for maintenance and repair among each of the parties.