Routt County Commissioners vote to privatize scenic stretch of road
May 30, 2017
More than 50 people left the Routt County commissioners’ hearing room on Tuesday disappointed and angry at their elected officials for voting to privatize a scenic road that crosses the Yampa River south of Lake Catamount.
Some residents also appeared shocked by the unanimous decision, which will prevent cyclists, birders and artists from accessing Routt County Road 18C.
The commissioners' decision came despite a strong showing of support from the public for keeping just over a quarter mile of the road public as well as a recommendation from the county's planning commission to do the same.
Commissioners labeled their vote as a prudent move that would allow the county to spend an estimated $10,000 a year in road maintenance funds on other, more pressing needs.
"We're not in the parks and rec business, and we're never going to be in the parks and rec business," Commissioner Doug Monger said.
Monger also singled out cyclists who were petitioning the county to keep the road open.
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"I think bikers get plenty of things around here," he said before going on to state agricultural lands were sacrificed to make way for trails around Emerald Mountain.
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski noted the county has other major issues competing with the road maintenance budget for taxpayer dollars.
"We run a jail, and we have an opioid problem in our community," she said. "We have some real issues."
And Commissioner Tim Corrigan noted the road maintenance savings could support up to three additional scholarships for families who cannot support child care tuition costs.
County residents who called on the county to keep it open saw it differently.
They felt the public road and the views of wildlife and the river it affords were worth the annual cost to maintain the road and the bridge.
"They just took away a public viewing point that has a lot of value to county residents," a despondent Jack Trautman said immediately after the vote. "It's gone forever. They totally ignored all of these people."
About 260 people had signed a petition Trautman started to keep part of the road open to the public.
Trautman said he was embarrassed and disgusted by the public process that led to the commissioner's decision. It appeared commissioners had made up their minds before Tuesday’s hearing, he said.
He added he was shocked by the vote against keeping the road open.
"I don't know how in the face of all that public comment they can do what they did," Trautman said. "I was embarrassed to be represented by them. They ignored their constituents."
The road that will be privatized serves the Catamount development and the Green Creek Ranch.
It does not lead to public land access, and county rules spell out it is actually illegal to stop on the bridge over the Yampa.
The road and the bridge had previously been private until a school bus needed to access the road to pick up children from the Gay ranch, Commissioner Corrigan said.
It is no longer on the school bus route.
At the start of the hearing, Corrigan asked for a show of hands to see who in the audience supported keeping the portion of the road public.
All but four people in the room raised their hands.
Commissioners did hear from a few supporters of the road privatization proposal.
Dennis Kunz, who lives near 18C, said it would be a waste of his money and taxpayer money to keep it open to the public.
"It's not like this is the only public spot south of town," he said.
Bruce Enever, who manages the Green Creek Ranch, suggested the county's ownership of the bridge was complicating the ranch's efforts to improve nearby streambanks and the fishing experience on the private property.
He added the bridge was a source of trespassing along the river.
As it became clear the commissioners would not keep the road open to the public, some in the room tried unsuccessfully to get in some more public comments following a public comment period that was limited due to time constraints.
Commissioner Corrigan had to keep order a couple of times during the meeting and stop some outbursts from the disappointed crowd.
As the vote was eventually called to vacate the road, a woman in the front row suggested the dozens of residents should simply walk out in protest.