Ellis County officials are launching a public awareness campaign intended to warn rural residents about the dangers of farming in county rights-of-way.
One of the most pressing issues is lack of visibility at intersections, many of which are unmarked in rural areas.
“They’ve got 8-foot feed up and a pretty good corn crop, and you can’t see at intersections,” said Public Works Director Bill Ring. “And most county intersections … are not controlled. We don’t want to have to try to go through that and put stop signs up. We want to leave it as best we can, but we also want to make sure we have a safe environment for people out there.”
It is illegal for farming or agriculture activities to take place in the public right-of-way, and violators can be reported to law enforcement.
Cattle grazing at or close to rights-of-way also can pose a safety hazard. In some areas, fencing to confine livestock is inadequate, often resulting in animal escapes and calls to the county sheriff’s office, Ring said.
“If you have an 800-pound heifer and you hit it with your vehicle, it does considerable damage,” he said. “We want to avoid damage as well as any injury.”
Public works department staff spends a significant amount of time keeping crops away from right-of-way and out of ditches. This takes resources away from other necessary projects, such as maintaining roads, he said.
Residents unsure of where the public right-of-way begins should be sure to keep crops and other items away from the ditch. If no ditch is present, they should stay at least 10 feet away from the edge of minor roads, and allow a distance of 15 feet on main roads. Landowners can check road widths by contacting the public works department.
If possible, it is ideal to leave extra distance at intersections to ensure drivers have an unobstructed view of potential traffic hazards.
The county has the legal right to recover costs of restoring a public right-of-way in instances where landowners refuse to cooperate. During normal mowing operations, any infringing crops will be cut down.
Residents also are asked not to treat any weeds in the right-of-way, but to leave those issues to the public works department. A sufficient grass cover is needed to prevent erosion, and household weed killers also could damage grass.
All residents are asked to report any sight obstructions in rural parts of the county due to right-of-way infringement by calling the county public works office at (785) 628-9455.