June 5, 2012

RS 2477 fight is important

One of the state's RS 2477 claims in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. (SUWA)

The Richfield Reaper

The fight over Revised Statute 2477 roads has been long and arduous, but it is also important.

In all, 13 lawsuits were filed last month by the Utah Office of the Attorney General on the behalf of counties in Utah with RS 2477 claims. The goal of the lawsuits is to protect access to roads that have been in use since before 1976.

An 1866 law designed to validate a system of highways and roads that traversed federal and private lands in the western United States established the RS 2477 roads. The law was repealed in 1976, but Congress granted right of way for roads used prior to the repeal.

In the years since then, there have been attempts to close several RS 2477 roads. One of the biggest examples of closures occurred with the declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996.

Environmental groups have argued for a different interpretation of RS 2477, as closing roads would allow for more wilderness areas to be designated.

While some may be under the impression that RS 2477 roads are all obscure dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, that is not the case. Looking over the list of recorded RS 2477 roads in Sevier County, one may be surprised to find names like Black Knoll Road, Hepplers Pond Road, Lost Creek Road and Upper Redmond Lake Road.

In all, 713 roads in Sevier County have been included in the lawsuit, as well as 101 in Piute, 341 in Wayne and 329 in Sanpete.

The goal of the attorney general’s office in filing lawsuits is to preserve access to roads so that they cannot be arbitrarily closed in the future. While some may never face the danger of being closed, others could be without warning.

Right of way is something that should be protected with zeal. It’s difficult to reopen roads that are closed, and even more so to establish new roads.

Closures of some roads may mean not being able to access a favorite fishing hole, while other closures could have severe economic and transportation consequences. In an area where the vast majority of terrain is federally owned and administered, being able to traverse the land is vital.

The attorney general’s office was right to file lawsuits in an effort to bring the RS 2477 issue to a resolu-tion. Hopefully, once the litigation is complete, access to public areas will be preserved for generations to come.