Sep 08 2005
Salt Lake City, Utah -- The State of Utah and Utah's counties are pleased with a decision rendered Thursday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit Court case was between Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the one hand, and three Utah counties * Kane, Garfield and San Juan * on the other.
The case involves 16 road rights-of-way the counties assert are theirs under the federal statute known as R.S. 2477. In the decision, a panel of three judges unanimously rejected the BLM administrative determinations that a judge of the Utah District Court has affirmed in disallowing the roads. The Tenth Circuit Court stated however, the BLM lacked authority to conduct those determinations.
The Tenth Circuit Court further rejected numerous standards employed by the BLM determinations, including a requirement that the roads be established by mechanical construction, and rejected the BLM's contention that a 1910 coal withdrawal in the area over which some of the roads run, disqualified the area for establishment of R.S. 2477 roads.
The Tenth Circuit instead upheld the arguments by the counties that the correct law to apply in determining whether the roads are valid under R.S. 2477 is Utah law which provides that continuous use for 10-years prior to 1976 is sufficient to establish an R.S.2477 right-of-way. This decision has been remanded to the District Court for complete review under the standards declared in the Tenth Circuit Court opinion.
"This is a major victory for the counties as well as the State, who have been seeking to establish countywide road systems for general public access," said Ralph Finlayson, Assistant Attorney General. "This case has been in litigation since 1996, when Kane, Garfield and San Juan counties were accused of trespass for performing maintenance on roads they asserted as their rights-of-way under the federal law. Our legal system sometimes requires patience, but the results are worth the wait. I am very happy with the court's decision and applaud the counties for staying the course despite much unwarranted criticism that often found its way into the media," said Mr. Finlayson, who represented Kane and Garfield counties in the case.