County takes on the U.S. Forest Service
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Garfield County could soon take on the U.S. government over ownership of more than a dozen roads that are claimed by both the county and the U.S. Forest Service.
Before that happens, according to county attorney Drew Gorgey, the county will make a final effort to reach a negotiated settlement with Forest Service officials.
“This has been a pretty long process,” Gorgey said on Friday. “There have been attempts to work it out before that have not been successful, and I want to make sure I have given my best effort to do so before we take it to court.”
On Monday, the Garfield Board of County Commissioners directed Gorgey to proceed with quiet title court filings involving ownership of roads on national forest lands throughout the county, from south of Carbondale to north of Rifle.
The disputed ownership of a number of roads came to a head this year as the Forest Service completed work on its Travel Management Plan, which identified roads for closure or reclassification with regard to use by the public.
The travel plan was the result of nearly eight years of work, including significant public input. Forest Service officials announced earlier in September that they are preparing to implement the plan’s winter travel rules late this year, and implement the summer rules in 2012.
At more than one public meeting during the travel plan planning process, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin complained that maps produced by the Forest Service did not agree with maps maintained by the county, regarding location of roads, the routes that roads took, and whether the roads historically had been open to vehicular use.
In addition, Martin maintained that roads identified as forest roads actually were Garfield County roads, and had been in use as county roads since before the Forest Service was created in 1905.
Martin explained on Friday that the quiet title action is based on a federal court ruling in Utah, from roughly 10 years ago, that established procedures for counties to initiate “assertion of ownership” for such roads.
The county formally objected to parts of the travel plan with a letter sent in July to Regional Forester Rick Cables, seeking changes in the plan concerning road closures and reclassification to non-motorized use, among other issues.
But the county’s proposal was rejected, Martin said, “because we didn’t say anything while the Travel Management Plan was being written.”
The next option for the county, Martin said, is to initiate quiet title actions concerning roads that are in dispute.
“They’ve been county roads since the opening of the West,” he told the Post Independent by telephone on Friday. “And you can’t close the roads to the public because of guaranteed access” to public lands.
“It’s just bureaucracy,” Martin said. “We’re working on it.”
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