AP NEWS

Mohave County supervisor wants fence installed to divert unlawful campers from area

April 10, 2019 GMT

Complaints from Havasu residents have prompted one Mohave County supervisor to seek a fence to prevent campers from entering state land near the intersection of London Bridge Road and Fathom Drive.

According to Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould, recreational vehicle owners have routinely camped in the area, about 1,000 feet west of London Bridge Road, during the winter and summer months. Under state statute, such campers are not permitted to camp within a quarter-mile of the roadway on state lands – but that hasn’t stopped them.

“I was getting complaints from residents in the Crystal Beach area,” Gould said in a Tuesday interview. “Campers are camping too close to the road. We’ve had reports of people running their sewage onto the ground, and their presence changes the flow of off-road traffic through the area.”

The area of Fathom Drive, west of London Bridge Road, is a landscape of rolling desert hills with a broad view over Lake Havasu – an attractive venue for Havasu’s off-highway vehicle enthusiasts as well as campers. While Gould doesn’t intend to fence the entire area off, a length of fence near the corner of Fathom Drive and London Bridge road should divert campers farther west, where they will be able to park further away from the roadway.

“There are already ‘no trespassing’ signs in that area,” Gould said. “They drive right past them. We’re hoping to put up smooth wire fence – the State Lands Office has donated the building materials. We’ll pay for the labor. The fence will make campers move to the other side of the wash and away from the roadway. The main reason for this is to eliminate the load on county deputies … the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have the manpower to police that area, or play park ranger.”

Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch lives within the area, and says unlawful campers are a source of frustration for Fathom Drive residents.

“People have to get a 14-day permit to camp on state trust land,” Kentch said. “They can only do that once per year. But these people are staying way longer than 14 days. Every day on my way to and from work I’ve seen the same campers, trailers and squatters … every taxpaying citizen out here is furious.”

According to Kentch, it’s not merely RV motorists, but also transient populations who favor the area, and can often be seen unlawfully camping within a quarter-mile of the roadway. Kentch says that campers who remain in the area past the 14-day expiration of their respective permits could be fined $500 under Mohave County statute – fees that could potentially recoup the cost of enforcement efforts by deputies.

“As a property owner, it’s upsetting to have to drive through a bunch of squatters and transient people every day … residents don’t feel safe. I’m grateful that Gould is addressing the issue. This won’t solve it completely, but it will help.”

An attractive location

The area of Fathom Drive and London Bridge Road was flush with campers Tuesday afternoon. While some were more recent arrivals, others had been camping in the area since as early as Jan. 1. Minnesota resident Bill Cunningham has been staying at the site for about a week, and was preparing to return to Minnesota on Tuesday. Cunningham has been retired since 2011, and has been visiting Lake Havasu City since 2012.

“I like the open spaces, and it’s a lot warmer here than it is in Minnesota,” Cunningham said. “This is my first time camping in this area. I was told I’d have to get a permit, and I got it from the library.”

According to Cunningham, whose vehicle was one of many parked within a quarter-mile of Fathom Drive Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff’s deputies have responded to the area when there have been complaints, but often leave without incident when presented with a State Lands-issued permit.

“I didn’t come here to cause problems,” Cunningham said. “I try to leave the area the way I’ve found it and I clean up after myself. But there are a lot of slobs who come here … And they use Havasu Heights as a dumping ground. Pickup trucks leave here filled with trash and come back empty a while later … it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what they’re doing.”

A nearby community

According to Fathom Drive resident Connie Palme, over-camping is an issue her community has attempted to address with the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department.

“For the last two years, it hasn’t just been campers,” Palme said. “It’s been everyone under the sun. They’re creating roads themselves … it’s a nightmare. All weekend long their side-by-sides come through our community. If you stand on top of any hill here you can see it – they’ve destroyed all of our sand dunes. We met with the sheriff to discuss it … at the beginning of that meeting, he told us how he enjoys camping with his son … and I knew he’s for camping. I’m for camping too … but not in a residential area. These people live there.”

According to Palme, Schuster has said he does not intend to enforce camping ordinances within the area.

“(Campers’) cars are parked up and down London Bridge Road … the Sheriff won’t even send people out there to cite people who are out there the whole summer. And they’re all over our neighborhood, all weekend.”

No easy fix

The Mohave County Sheriff’s office fields fewer than 85 deputies, who are responsible for a county about as large as the states of New Jersey and Connecticut combined. As the fifth-largest county in the U.S., the Sheriff’s Office may not have the manpower to patrol the area of Fathom Drive — and according to Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster, deputies don’t have the jurisdictional authority to remove campers who have obtained permits through the Arizona State Lands Office.

Schuster released a written statement to Today’s News-Herald about the issue Tuesday afternoon.

“There are ongoing calls for service regarding illegal camping in the area of Fathom Drive and London Bridge Road,” Schuster said. “This area is Arizona State Trust Land and requires a permit for use. We routinely check this area and have found that those camping on the property have obtained the required permit. I understand that certain people do not like this as it is relatively close to many residences. I don’t like this either, and feel it is an eyesore situated at the entrance to our beautiful city. My personal feelings however do not count … it is my responsibility to enforce the law without bias or prejudice.”

According to Schuster, however, his jurisdictional ability to enforce the law does not supersede that of Arizona state statutes, and he cannot remove people who are legally permitted to be on such land. He attended a meeting with homeowners in the neighborhood, including Palme, to address the issue.

“Most of the group understood but some were adamant that these permitted campers were breaking the law,” Schuster said. “I advised the group I would research and get a legal opinion on the situation. It was suggested the best course of action would be to petition the State Trust Land Governing Board to seek alternative solutions or amendments to the camping ordinance.”

According to Schuster, the Mohave County Attorney’s Office has agreed that deputies do not have the authority to remove campers from state trust land, despite county ordinances that prohibit camping within a quarter-mile of roadways and structures.

“As far as the statement that I have instructed deputies not to patrol the area, that is absolutely false,” Schuster said. “I have never instructed my deputies to not patrol this or any other county area. I encourage them to spend as much time on patrol as calls for service allow.”

Schuster remains in contact with State Trust officials, he said, and is determined to resolve the issue at its lowest possible level.

State Lands Office Public Information Officer Mark Scarp responded to an inquiry about camping in the area with an emailed statement Sunday.

“We are aware of the situation involving State Trust land along Fathom Drive and our staff is working as quickly as possible to identify and implement an appropriate long-term solution,” Scarp said.

The proposed fence would block a 2,000-foot section of Fathom Drive, preventing entrance and exit to the area from the intersection. Funding for the project would be sourced to next year’s county budget, and would cost approximately $10,200.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve the project at its April 15 meeting.