June 1, 2004

County Speaks Out on RS-2477 Road Issues

Emery County Progress

As a result of a lawsuit filed by USA-All against Emery County, officials, some who have been involved in the roads dispute for nearly 25 years, were on hand to present an explanation of the county's stance to the citizens of Emery County.

Patrick Gubbins, from the Bureau of Land Management, was first to address the crowd. He covered the development of the route designation plan put out by the BLM. " I will say one thing, working in the public sector for 28 years and having worked with numerous county officials, it has been a pleasure working with Emery County. They are a very progressive county."

Gubbins went on to explain that when he took over the Price Field Office, there were two separate resource areas. One was the Price resource center and the other was the San Rafael resource center. There were two separate management plans, so it was undertaken to combine the plans as the offices were combined into the Price Field Office. It was Gubbins' goal to develop a route designation plan within five years. Eleven years later, the plan was implemented in the spring of 2003.

During the process of development, the BLM took more than 12,000 comments from the public into consideration for development of the resource management plan. With 1,200 miles of trails in approximately one million acres of land, the process was lengthy. In the plan, 688 miles of roads are designated for motorized use. Gubbins stated that the plan does not settle the RS-2477 situation and that the BLM will honor the outcome of the RS-2477 decisions.

Sheriff Lamar Guymon was next. He said that the county has wanted an officer on the San Rafael for many years, but because of the lack of funding, putting a deputy out there has not been possible. In the past few years, offers of funding have come about, but the funds have not materialized.

The BLM came forward with the proposition and funding for an officer and as a result, an officer was assigned to patrol the San Rafael. No place in the contract does it allow the officer to enforce federal statutes, only state and county laws and ordinances. The deputy's main duty is to educate the users and hand out information and maps. To date, the officer has handed out more than 500 packets of tourist information and educated those visitors to the area. Very few citations have been written, and those were, as the contract states, only for state and county law violations.

Sheriff Guymon also stated that having an officer present on the Swell has been very beneficial to all concerned, the county as well as the BLM. By patrolling on a daily basis, the officer can note any damage to land or signs, and notify the proper entity. The deputy keeps all parties informed about conditions and happenings on the Swell.

Mark Ward, from the Utah State Attorney General's Office, department of public lands and natural resources, was next. Ward is the supervisor of the team of attorneys involved in the RS-2477 project. He also represents counties on public lands issues. "From our perspective, Emery County has done an outstanding job in the RS-2477 project," Ward said.

Ward went on to say that most of the process is extremely confidential with the anticipation of litigation. "Emery County has been very thorough in everything connected with these issues. It has been a massive undertaking to collect the data necessary to assert rights to these roads. Emery County has not lagged and they have done everything the attorney general's office has asked of them," said Ward.

RS-2477 is a vested claim by virtue of a federal mining statute. That vestiture occurred upon the completion of roads, no one ever thought to record when the roads came into being. In 1976, Congress enacted the Federal Lands Policy Management Act and FLPMA effectively repealed the effectiveness of RS-2477. The claims that are being asserted under RS-2477 now have to be documented as being constructed prior to Oct. 21, 1976.

The RMP is not a formal tool to settle the road claims and is only a part of the transportation plan. These contested roads may or may not be RS-2477 roads, but the county will continue to assert its rights and insert the RS-2477 roads into the plan. Emery County has reserved those rights in the management plan.

Ray Petersen, Emery County Public Lands Director, explained to the group that his goal was to demonstrate the consistency of the county in this situation and its relationship with the BLM. With the signed memorandum of understanding, Emery County maintains cooperating agency status.

Petersen read portions of the letters written by the county and his predecessor, Val Payne, concerning the roads and trails in the Swell. Emery County representatives have attended every meeting held on these road issues and they continue to assert their position that they will not give up roads. "Emery County has, and will continue to pursue their rights, they do not intend to let them fall by the wayside," said Petersen. "Emery County has spent more that $100,000 documenting their ownership of the roads. Margaret McMullin has countless letters, personal histories, video taped histories, photographs, and she has also spent thousands of hours collecting the documentation to substantiate Emery County's claim to these roads," said Petersen.

Dennis Worwood expressed to the audience the necessity to work with the attorney general's office and go through the process as their strategy indicates. "I have been involved with public road issues for 25 years. I am the only surviving member of the original public lands council, and this is my last six months," said Worwood.

"Some of the assertions of the law suit are just not true. The county cannot ignore what their attorney says to do, they cannot be vigilantes in this road war. Other counties have removed barricades and taken down signs, and also graded roads. Although Emery County is not doing those things, they are not standing idly by and doing nothing. Emery County's attorney has advised them to stay the course of the strategy.

"This road war is being fought on three fronts, the legislative, the judicial and the executive branches. The San Rafael Swell is the poster child for the Utah Wilderness Coalition who wants to designate 49.5 percent of Emery County as wilderness. Emery County is very active and involved in this fight. Emery County cannot ignore the advice of the attorney general's office and do what USA-All wants," added Worwood.