Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) filed suit May 4 to compel Emery County commissioners to re-open closed RS-2477 roads and to compel the commissioners and Utah Governor Olene Walker to affirmatively act to prevent additional area closures under pending Bureau of Land Management land use planning.
According to Rainer Huck, USA-ALL President, the lawsuit is intended to force officials to reverse mistakes made in the BLM planning process that led to the adoption of the San Rafael Swell Route Designation Plan and to prevent a recurrence of the problem in BLMs current land use plan revision process for all of its lands in Emery County and Carbon County.
In preparing the SRSDP, BLM simply ignored Emery County's RS-2477 roads, stating that the county could assert road ownership at a later time. County and state officials did not object to this procedure, did not object to the SRSDPs failure to recognize all RS-2477 roads and did nothing as BLM thereafter barricaded long existing RS-2477 roads.
"BLM will be issuing a draft environmental impact statement on its Price Resource Management Plan revision any day," said Huck. "We can't allow county and state officials to again stand idly by while BLM closes long acknowledged RS-2477 roads."
In fact, Emery County officials were not simply passive. They subsequently entered into a cooperative agreement for the county sheriff to patrol and enforce the SRSDP motorized use restrictions in return for monies paid to the county by BLM. The lawsuit asks the court to order the commissioners and sheriff to return BLM monies and to cease enforcing a plan that purports to make driving on RS-2477 roads a crime.
"Utah officials have a duty to keep highways open, not to arrest people simply for driving on them," said Huck. "If officials don't want the public to use its roads, they must abandon them under Utah law."
Among RS-2477 roads unacknowledged and barricaded by BLM are Junes Bottom, Muddy River and Seger's Hole. Additionally, the SRSDP ignored several roads in the San Rafael Swell that Emery County had specifically asserted in their proffer to a federal judge in 2000 in Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Norton, now pending before the United States Supreme Court. Yet, Emery County did nothing when BLMs 2002 draft environmental impact statement failed to include the roads.
During 2003 USA-ALL demanded that the county re-open the blocked roads or else abandon the roads pursuant to Utah law. The county's refusal to do either resulted in the present lawsuit in which USA-ALL is represented by attorney Paul W. Mortensen.
RS-2477 highways are state and county owned routes that were established over BLM lands prior to Oct. 21, 1976, most of which are class D roads. USA-ALL's complaint cites the 1896 Utah Supreme Court case of Whitesides v. Green, in which the court, under long established common law, emphasized that public officials "are bound to keep the road open...and, if obstructions be placed thereon, it is their duty to remove the same, and care for the rights of the public."
Under Utah law, RS-2477 roads are jointly owned by the state and the county in which they are located, but the county governing body exercises sole jurisdiction and control of roads. Thus, the county has the obligation to open closed roads, while both the state and county, as owners, have the duty to assure that BLM planning schemes do not result in the de facto loss of ownership and county control of the roads.
The governor reviews BLM plans before they go into effect to assure they are consistent with state and local law. "It's critical for the governor to use the consistency review to prevent BLM from closing RS-2477 roads in its plans," said Huck.
BLM land use plan revisions for counties other than Emery County are also underway in areas managed by BLMs Price, Uintah, Richfield, Moab and Monticello field offices with other plan revisions about to get underway. USA-ALL has notified counties throughout the state, to identify and block BLMs SRSDP "ignore and close" strategy. "We're hoping the other counties will learn from the mistakes in Emery County," said Huck.
Utah Shared Access Alliance is Utah's largest motorized recreation access advocacy organization. USA-ALL's complaint is available on USA-ALLs web page at www.usa-all.com.