Paul Mortensen, attorney for USA-All, on invitation from SouthEastern Utah Off Highway Vehicle Club, spoke in response to the lawsuit the organization has filed against Emery County. In a gathering at the Museum of the San Rafael, Mortensen explained the group's reasons for bringing the lawsuit.
He began by explaining that USA-All is a non profit organization representing its members, some of which are local residents, who are concerned users of public lands and need access to those public lands. These members are concerned with access and multiple use of the public lands in Emery County.
Mortensen said, "Some of the aspects of our case are confidential and part of the strategy, but we'll try to explain our complaint. Also, what took place to bring us to the point of filing the lawsuit."
Mortensen went on to explain the mining law of 1866 which gave blanket rights to create roads on public lands. That law was in effect until Federal Lands Policy Management Act (FLPMA) was enacted Oct. 21, 1976, and that act closed off the West to newly created roads over public lands. In 1978, most counties began to map out and document their roads and assert their rights of way.
During the Clinton Administration, assaults were made on the basic uses of lands in the West. At which point, governors and states began a process to obtain quiet title rights to the roads. Usually quiet title rights take six months. Utah has been in the process for four years.
A suit was brought by SUWA against Bruce Babbitt to force the BLM to close numerous roads. With this pressure came the BLMs revision of their travel plan in which they were mandated to respect all RS 2477 roads. When the plan was released, it closed many definite RS 2477 roads. The BLMs response was that RS 2477 was too complicated an issue and they were not going to consider RS 2477 roads.
With the BLMs adoption of the plan in 2003, USA-All has been involved in cases where the BLM is using emergency closures to get the roads closed. USA-All hopes this lawsuit will pressure the BLM to do the right thing. Many counties are not asserting their rights of way, and the BLM is barricading roads. The new draft resource management plan will be released any day now, and its release will greatly impact the use of those roads. "The BLM must be forced to be consistent with the county plan," said Mortensen.
The state attorney generals office has been advising the officials in Emery County throughout the RS 2477 litigation process. Emery County officials hosted a public meeting on May 25 in which they stated that their actions and strategies are confidential, but they are adamant that they are asserting the county's rights to the roads. Mortensen stated that one facet of the lawsuit now pending against Emery County and its officials, is asking to see the county's plans.
"We are asking them, (the county and the attorney generals office) to change their strategy and reveal their plans," said Mortensen. "Since the litigation concerning RS 2477 began, times have changed, events have changed and now, strategies need to change."
"This lawsuit does not represent any personal attacks on officials in Emery County. The governor, the county sheriff and the county commissioners are all named in the lawsuit, in their official capacities only. We want this to remain civil and not turn into a mud slinging event," Mortensen added. He went on to say that the local representatives have a duty to protect the public roads and keep them open. USA-All wants to compel the officials to identify the RS 2477 roads.
"As yet, the county has not responded," said Mortensen.