County tackles road issue

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— Claims to historic roads that cut through public and private lands should be considered in an organized way under specific policies, states a resolution the Routt County Board of Commissioners plans to sign today.

The resolution comes in response to the controversial R.S. 2477, an almost 150-year-old federal rule granting "the right of way for construction of highways over public lands not reserved for public uses."

That self-executing, short law has caused confusion about what rights-of-way can be claimed and by whom.

The county commissioners' resolution first recommends that Congress approve a policy to resolve issues related to R.S. 2477 rights-of-way, as a federal standard would make for consistency among states.

"Federal legislation needs to happen," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The county's resolution recommends that a public process be established to determine whether right-of-way claims are valid, and that rights-of-way should be treated differently if the road goes through a national park, wilderness area, or other public land with a special designation.

Finally, county commissioners said any solution should require minimal financial resources from counties, and that any solution should have "reasonable" deadlines.

Without deadlines for identifying and claiming rights-of-way, Monger said, the issue could last "forever."

"There could always be a question of (if) there is a right-of-way out there," he said.

The resolution falls in line with a report written by a committee of Colorado Counties Inc., that was considered by CCI in early June. Monger was part of that committee.

A focus of that report was that federal legislation is needed to address RS-2477 concerns uniformly. The report also suggests that counties should involve the public when deciding on and documenting rights-of-way.

In 1866, Congress granted rights-of-way across public lands for the construction of highways to access mining deposits in federal land. That rule, RS-2477, was repealed in 1976, but the repeal preserved the rights-of-way the rule had established.

Today, there is uncertainty about whether certain rights-of-way have been established.

Concerns surrounding the rule include that new roads could be built which cut through private land, and that public roads that were never acknowledged could disappear.

Routt County has not identified any R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that it would want to claim, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. However, nearby Moffat County has started the process to assert claims to all rights-of-way in the county, five or six of which come into Routt County.

County commissioners will consider the resolution at 1:45 p.m. in the Commissioners Hearing Room of the Courthouse Annex.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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