No citizen has been granted the authority to regulate other citizens’ activities on state-owned areas of Merry Point Road. And no citizen has the power to post signs on the state’s property, according to VDOT.
“It’s very disturbing when you drive up to the Merry Point Ferry to see a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on the side of the highway,” Lancaster’s District 4 Supervisor William Lee told David Beale, a resident engineer for VDOT, during the April Board of Supervisors meeting.
Lee said he’d seen the sign firsthand during a drive down the road with Lancaster’s Director of Planning and Land Use, Brian Barnes.
“When you break around the corner. There’s a sign on the edge of the road-- no trespassing. When you approach the ferry there are two signs that say: Private beach, no trespassing. So my question is when did all of this become private?” Lee asked Beale.
“There’s a prescriptive easement that runs along the road 30 feet wide. That part is public. The land on either side of that’s private,” Beale responded.
“I’d like to know when did that become a private beach. And how did it become a private beach,” Lee questioned again.
Beale didn’t directly answer the questions about the beach but said, “I’ve had multiple conversations with a landowner down there. And my understanding was he was posting the land that he owned. Not the right-of-way. The right-of-way is 30 feet wide but I’ll go check it,” Beale told Lee.
Lee requested if the signs were in the right-of-way that they be removed “immediately.”
“I’ll do it the same day if they’re in the right-of-way,” said Beale.
An ongoing contention
After rounding the last corner leading to Merry Point Ferry, there are no entryways or driveways. There is one dock to the left and beside the ferry there is a fragment of beachfront that’s marked private, which is what Lee was referring to.
Most of the remaining waterfront bordering the road is lined with rip-rap.
When the ferry isn’t operating, it’s essentially a dead-end road, and some people go there to access the water for activities like fishing and crabbing, which is often done from the road and standing on the rip-rap.
For years, there has been back-and-forth between people living near the Merry Point Ferry who seem to want to control of it and how people use the waterside area and the people who want water access, many of whom live elsewhere in Merry Point.
But Kelly Hannon, communications manager for VDOT’s Fredericksburg District has made clear that VDOT holds the responsibility of determining what happens on the state-owned portion. And the department hasn’t granted that authority to any local property owners, as some people have been led to believe.
The state’s property extends from the center of the road outward approximately 15 feet in each direction, which includes several feet of shoulder on each side, said Hannon.
“VDOT has oversite of the state right-of-way, the ferry landing, and the ferry dock, which VDOT maintains and where vehicles enter and exit the ferry ramp. Individual citizens do not determine how public property is used,” she said.
It is VDOT’s responsibility to respond to issues, such as concerns of motorist safety and damage to state property or littering. In instances where there are issues related to noise violations and trespassing on the private property VDOT will refer those concerns to law enforcement, she added.
Posted Virginia Code prohibits anyone from putting signs or advertisements in a right-of-way.
If an individual places a sign in the right-of-way and VDOT knows who did it, the department generally starts by asking the person to remove it, unless the sign causes imminent danger, like blocking a view of oncoming traffic. Then, VDOT would remove it immediately.
However, if a person fails to comply with a request for removal, VDOT will send written notices and ultimately can impose a $100 fine.
And when it comes to no trespassing signs, a section of Virginia’s Code addresses them specifically, and makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to knowingly or intentionally put one on another property owner’s land without permission.
With regards to the signs Lee referenced, Hannon said an inspection revealed they were all on private property and VDOT doesn’t have any plans to make a request for removal based on the current locations.