January 28, 2009

County sues to ensure Camp Rock Road access

By ABBY SEWELL, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County is suing the federal government in hopes of establishing its right of way on a road crossing federal land between Lucerne Valley and Daggett.

The county is seeking to officially establish its ownership of Camp Rock Road, a county-maintained road that covers about 42 miles between Lucerne Valley and Daggett and crosses federal land, according to press release from county First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s office.

“The road supports numerous industries, such as ranching, mining, filming and recreation, and it’s a road a lot of people use to get back and forth between Lucerne and Johnson Valley and the greater Barstow area,” Mitzelfelt said Wednesday. “... Our position is that in order to maintain our roads and keep them open, we need to be able to show we have the right of way for a variety of reasons.”

In April 2003 the county filed an application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a “recordable disclaimer,” which would establish its right of way on the road and give the county a legal record of its ownership. The application was never processed, and the county is now asking for a court order that would force the BLM to process it in a timely manner, Mitzelfelt said Wednesday.

“Either issue the disclaimer or don’t issue the disclaimer, and tell us why,” he said.

The county’s application showed that it has been maintaining the road since before 1976, allowing the county to claim right of way under an 1866 mining law, Mitzelfelt said. The law was repealed in 1976, but existing right of ways were allowed to stand, according to the county release.

Alan Stein, deputy district manager of resources for the BLM’s California Desert District, said the BLM had been waiting to see how court cases involving right of ways established under the old mining law played out in other states before taking up San Bernardino County’s application.

In the meantime, he said, the county continues to use and maintain the road, and in the BLM’s maps, the road shows up as being owned by the county.

“It’s not that we tried to close Camp Rock Road — we didn’t, and we didn’t try to change the use on Camp Rock Road,” Stein said. “It’s a legal issue, and the county is interested in, and has been interested in, maintaining access.”

The county filed its motion asking for a court order in the United States District Court in Riverside on Jan. 14 under the authority of board Chairman Gary Ovitt, and the board ratified the action at its regular meeting Tuesday, Mitzelfelt said.