Dispute over Boat Launch on Smith Lake in Alabama
A boat launch near Big Bridge on Smith Lake in Cullman, Alabama is the subject of a lawsuit and now an attempt at mediation between a development company and Cullman County. The launch has been used by the public for years, according to the county, but now the developers, Ryan Creek Acquisition, Inc., who recently took ownership of the marina at Crane Hill that includes the launch, are asserting that it was never a public launch. The company has placed a locked gate over the launch.
Ryan Creek argues that regardless of whether the launch was accessible to the public, it has never been a “public” launch, but rather a private launch operated by the marina, which charged its customers for the use. Ryan Creek did acknowledge that it and previous owners of the marina have allowed the county to use the launch, and acknowledge that the launch does partially fall within the county’s “right of way,” stemming from a conveyance added to the deed in 1960, although they also dispute the validity of the conveyance.
The mediation will center on the opposing needs of the public and private entities: The developers and marina owners have rights to their private property and should be allowed to enforce those rights, but the county has a duty and right to provide services and have access to county property. The real meat of the dispute is the claim by the county that the launch was used for years by the public at large with no fees attached to its use, establishing it as a public launch and not a private one.