The Governor's Office and Utah Attorney General's Office announced today the filing of federal lawsuits to settle ownership rights on roads in Garfield and Kane Counties, including roads within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
"The BLM has completely ignored local and state requests for local control of vital roads within the public lands, instead choosing to unilaterally close roads and restrict access enjoyed by Utahns for decades, contrary to the protections with FLPMA of 1976," said Governor Gary R. Herbert. "We will now bring the historical evidence to court, and ask that the access rights and travel needs of Utahns be upheld in the face of federal indifference. Ownership is the only tool that allows local and state governments to have a legitimate say in the management of access to public lands."
One lawsuit was filed today over 94 roads in Garfield County, and another lawsuit was filed November 10 concerning 710 road segments in Kane County.
"We have tried for years to resolve these issues without litigation but these two lawsuits represent the failure of the federal government to recognize roads built and used by Utahns for decades," says Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow. "We will continue to take action to protect the rights of Utah citizens."
U.S. District Court Magistrate Brooke C. Wells has been asked to grant quit title to the roads under R.S. 2477 in the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and other roads now being administered by the Department of Interior. Although R.S. 2477 was repealed with the Federal Land Policy Management Act in 1976, the act still grand-fathered the rights of way on existing roads.
"Plaintiff's public highways serve the vital function of linking communities," states the Kane County brief. "Due to the rugged terrain in Kane County, each of the roads claimed herein is incredibly important because there is rarely an alternate route."
The Utah Attorney General's Office and attorneys representing the counties are working together on the litigation.
"We have strong evidence that these roads were used before 1976 and some even pre-date Utah's statehood in 1896," says Assistant Attorney General Harry Souvall.