By Clint Confehr
Senior Staff Writer
BELFAST - Residents here agree on at least one thing. The Tennessee Department of Transportation shouldn't take property when installing traffic islands.
Construction of concrete traffic islands here came this fall under an experimental program to control motorists' speed and direction. However, residents say it's wrong if TDOT built them on property owned by Peggy Orr Mason of Murfreesboro.
Without admitting such an encroachment, TDOT spokeswoman Beth Emmons said, "We may have encroached on some private property during the initial work."
Mason hasn't attended a meeting of the newly formed Belfast community organization, but reports that she's been told she owns more than what she thought. A TDOT official apparently made a statement to that effect at an association meeting last month.
Mason thinks a large portion of the concrete slab poured as a traffic island is on her property around a building that once served as the Belfast Post Office.
"It's been distressing to me," Mason said. "I live in Murfreesboro and I'm getting tired of it."
Residents want to know when the traffic islands will be removed.
"We want to get any questions about property ownership straightened out before any more work is done," Emmons said.
The traffic islands were installed to increase highway safety, but Mason counters, "The people of Belfast don't think it's a dangerous place."
Now, because of the traffic island, Mason said, "Horse trailers are pulled through town and they have to get into the other lane to make a turn...
"It's caused a lot of controversy in the community," she said, conceding that before the roadwork, she'd not had such frequent contact with Belfast area residents as she does now.
She also owns the old railroad depot that's used as the Coon Den Lodge. The building is historic, she said.
What TDOT did "changed the looks of the rural setting," Mason said.
"I feel a responsibility to the town," she continued. "It was a real active community when I was there...
"It's hard to talk with them (TDOT officials) because they say it's a safety issue," Mason said.
What does she want?
"Put the town back the way it was," Mason said. "Dig up the asphalt and put grass in."
Concrete traffic islands are "just ugly," she said. "They ruined the look of the town."
Mason, 75, was "born in the middle of Belfast, in the little white house across the street from the Belfast church," she said.
Recently, Mason spoke with a lawyer in Murfreesboro "for a sounding board," but she's not inclined to sue TDOT over the traffic islands on her land, she said.
The controversy has been brewing for months. It was "blazing hot" when the concrete was poured.