Greene River Trail's northern entrance closed

This sign has been posted in front of the blocked off parking lot of the Greene River Trail’s northern entrance at Greene Cove Yacht Club in Clarksville. The closure recently came about because of an ongoing dispute between the owners of the yacht club and Greene County. (Photo by Steve Barrett)

The Greene River Trail isn’t long as rails-to-trails conversions go, measuring just 5.2 miles.

But it’s gotten even shorter since the recent closure of the trail’s northern entrance at Greene Cove Yacht Club in Clarksville, and access from the south.

Newly posted signs direct walkers, joggers and bicyclists to stay off the approximately one mile of crushed stone path on Greene Cove’s property.

The closure came about recently because of a dispute between the owners of the yacht club and Greene County.

The Greene County commissioners, in a news release posted on the county’s website, note that trail users can continue to access the Greene River Trail at Rices Landing and Carmichaels.

At the heart of the matter are two legal terms: “easement,” which entitles someone who is not the landowner to limited use of property, and “indemnification,” which means to secure against hurt, loss or damage.

Arthur J. Boyle, now 87, was the sole owner of the Greene Cove Yacht Club. The Greene County Industrial Development Authority approached him, said his son, Terry, and requested an easement that was recorded in February 2001.

In granting ingress and egress, Arthur Boyle did not ask for monetary payment.

“He said, ‘Certainly,’” according to Terry Boyle. “But he needed to have some protection afforded to him. The agreement he entered into has an indemnification.”

Terry Boyle described his father’s role in the trail development as “an act of kindness.”

At some point – Terry Boyle said, “without our knowledge” – the industrial development authority “made a deal between them and some other entity in the county.

“We feel the county did not live up to their end of the bargain,” said Terry Boyle, who with his brother, Morgan, own Greene Cove Enterprises Inc. They purchased the marina and related operation from their father 17 years ago, and for the past two years, the Boyles have been seeking what Terry Boyle called “reclarification of the easement agreement that we have.”

In an attempt to iron out the dispute, Terry Boyle said he and his attorneys met with Greene County officials, including the solicitor, but when they reached an impasse, Greene Cove first posted a “no trail access” sign and then placed Jersey barriers.

“This is not what I want to do,” Terry Boyle said. “We’re asking the county to do what we wanted to do all along, indemnify Greene Cove. I’ve been very polite. We don’t want to be heavy-handed here.

“I terminated the recreational trail easement agreement last Friday,” he continued. “I’m on the hook now. Anything that happens is my responsibility.”

Greene Cove pays taxes on the trail property, Terry Boyle said, and he is also picking up the tab for a premises liability insurance policy.

For years, people used the trail without incident, but that changed three years ago.

A news story dated Aug. 25, 2017 that was published in the Observer-Reporter, the Messenger’s sister newspaper, reported that on Aug. 24, 2017 a man in his 60s suffered head and arm injuries when what was described as a “huge tree” fell near the Greene Cove Yacht Club trail entrance.

The victim, who was unidentified at the time, was flown by medical helicopter to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.

In May 2019, the victim, Beranger Nemal of Millsboro, filed suit May 2019 in Greene County Court against Greene Cove Yacht Club Inc. and Greene Cove Enterprises Inc.

Nemal’s complaint alleges that the deteriorated tree was located on Greene Cove’s property. The case is still open, according to docket entries.

“I am not going to open myself again,” Terry Boyle said he told the commissioners. “You’ve made it clear you won’t defend me.”

The commissioners issued a news release on the situation.

“The easement owner is demanding coverage of $5 million per incident as well as an indemnity clause that would hold the county broadly liable for incidents on the easement to include intentional negligence,” according to the news release.

“Two attorneys employed by the county with more than 80 years of municipal law experience between them and the underwriters for the insurance company found the demands unreasonable.”

Commission Chairman Mike Belding, in a statement included in the posting, said, “It is unfortunate we couldn’t maintain this easement at a reasonable risk to the taxpayers of Greene County, but one of government’s primary responsibilities is to protect the public from (undue) risk.

“The proposed changes to the easement agreement present risks that are not acceptable. Our subject matter experts in municipal law and the insurance industry have significant concerns about the liability that would be presented to the taxpayer should this proposed agreement be accepted.”

Paul R. Robinson, one of the attorneys representing the yacht club enterprise, disagreed.

In an email, Robinson wrote, “The original easement, which was given by the Boyles to Greene County at no cost, had the same indemnity and insurance obligations as the new easement.

“After the incident on the trail, the county breached its agreement to indemnify the Boyles and have them named as additional insureds on the county insurance policy as promised. All the Boyles requested was to make the indemnity and insurance provisions enforceable by including the required language to make them enforceable considering the county’s decision to ignore the terms of the original easement.”

Of the $5 million amount, Robinson wrote, the figure “was included by the county and its solicitor, and it was meant to provide insurance coverage to Greene County citizens who were injured using the trail due to improper maintenance of the trail by the county.”

He called the lack of an agreement between Greene County and Greene Cove “unfair to the Boyles and the residents who have enjoyed using the donated property to access the river trail.”

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