RIFLE, Colorado — Energy company Encana is claiming that a network of 10 roads northwest of here are private and should be taken off Garfield County’s public road maps.
But the county commissioners on Monday weren’t so willing to take the company’s word for it, and said Encana should file a formal petition asking for the roads to be vacated or to otherwise prove that they are not public.
A soon-to-be-hired new county acquisitions manager will also be asked to look into the matter. One of that person’s duties will be to research road ownership and public access questions.
In a Dec. 12 letter to Garfield County Road and Bridge Director Deb Fiscus, Encana’s North Piceance Land manager Jonathan Wente requests that County Roads 401 through 409 and C.R. 249 be removed from county maps or indicate that they are private roads.
The roads cross the company’s North Parachute Ranch property near the Rio Blanco County line, about 12 miles due north of Parachute, but are accessed from County Road 242 (JQS Trail) north of Rifle or off State Highway 13 in Rio Blanco County.
Wente says in the letter that the roads are maintained by Encana and have signs indicating that they are private. However, public access is allowed under a wildlife mitigation plan agreed to between the company and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin said he’s done some research and found that the roads show up on county road maps from about 1972 forward.
“My feeling is that they should be public rights of way,” Martin said.
Added Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, “I’m a little bit flabbergasted by the request. Just because a road goes across someone’s private property doesn’t mean it’s not a county road.”
Jankovsky said he has personally traveled some of the roads in question, and that they do access public lands and connect to public roads in Rio Blanco County.
“It has been the position of this board to keep roads open in western Garfield County,” Jankovsky said.
Encana acquired the property in 2004 from Unocal Corp., which was a major player during the oil shale development boom in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Encana spokesman Doug Hock said Tuesday that he believes the roads existed when the company acquired the land.
Based on the county commissioners concerns, he said the company would request a meeting with county officials to further discuss the matter.
Hock said Encana currently controls access onto the roads and across its property with gates, under the belief that they are private.
“Hunters are allowed to use the roads at certain times and in certain areas, but that is one of the things that we’ve had to control,” he said. “We’re not trying to change or deny access, we just want to change the way the roads are indicated on the maps.”
County Attorney Frank Hutfless said the roads have been reflected on county road maps for several decades.
“Mere nonuse of a public road is not an abandonment,” Hutfless said. “That is something that requires (county commissioner) action.”