Commissioners tread into right of way debate |

Commissioners tread into right of way debate

Ryan Graff
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS- The Garfield County Board of Commissioners discussed the future of cow trails and foot paths at their regular meeting Tuesday.

The discussion stemmed from a presentation by Steve Smith of Glenwood Springs, a field representative for the Western Colorado Congress, regarding an 1866 federal statute could open undeveloped lands to road development.

The statute, known as R.S. 2477, affects Colorado and other Western states. The debate surrounding R.S. 2477 has resurfaced periodically since it was repealed in 1976, said Smith after the meeting.

Some presidential administrations define roadways more broadly than others, he said. The current debate comes from a mandate issued last spring by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to provide greater access to public lands, said Smith.

The entire statute reads, “The right-of-way for the construction of highways over public land, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”

Smith asked commissioners to take a moderate approach to the development of new roads in Garfield County.

He urged them to stay away from the “extreme” approach the Moffat County commissioners recently took by including cow paths, creekbeds and game trails in their definition of a road right-of-way.

Though Smith’s suggestions to the commission would protect land from future development, Commissioner John Martin worried that prohibiting paths and game trails from development would cheat future generations.

Martin pointed to Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon as one example of why existing paths should not be protected from future development.

Martin said the path I-70 takes through Glenwood Canyon started as a cow path, and that had the development of that path been blocked, I-70 wouldn’t exist where it does today.

He also expressed concern over blocking the public’s right to travel on public lands.

“I can’t support removing the right of people to cross public lands,” he said. “It’s there, it’s somebody’s means of transportation, and we’ve got to respect that,” said Martin of existing paths.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt said the 1866 statute is out of date.

“Where are we today versus where we were when the law was enacted?” she asked.

While opening the West to exploration and development may have been an important element in the statute when it was written, preservation is a more important value in today’s society, said Houpt.

The discussion ended with Martin asking Smith how the public would enjoy public lands where no path or road access existed.

“If there is unfettered access, what is there left to enjoy?” replied Smith.

Pipeline regulation

The commissioners also continued a discussion on the regulation of pipelines in Garfield County.

In the past, oil and gas pipeline developers have sometimes been surprised by the need for a special use permit to build a pipeline, said Garfield County Planner Mark Bean.

Part of the confusion resulted from the word “pipeline” not being defined in Garfield County codes, said Bean.

The commission decided to wait until after a roundtable between officials from several Colorado counties, which will likely yield regulations and definitions for pipelines.

By waiting, they could address issues specific to Garfield County and to protect county citizens.

Citizens’ “health, safety, and welfare is the primary concern,” said Commissioner Larry McCown.

Houpt said land use issues such as pipe laying and road use should be controlled by the county.

The commissioners also discussed the use of special use permits for pipelines.

McCown said special use permits shouldn’t be required for every pipeline in Garfield County, simply because the number to be processed would be overwhelming.

Peggy Utesch of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance said special use permits are needed because they require a public hearing.

“We just want to be involved in the process,” said Utesch.

Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 535

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