First R.S. 2477 road resolution on record now in place
On Monday, in a Kane County quiet title suit in the United States District Court, the United States acknowledged Kane County's ownership and jurisdiction of approximately 26 miles of the 33 mile long Skutumpah road.
The county started signing, maintaining and repairing the road on Tuesday.
The Skutumpah road is believed to be the first Utah R.S. 2477 highway with title confirmed in court, and may be the first R.S. 2477 road adjudicated on lands managed by the Department of the Interior.
R.S. 2477 public highway rights-of-way were granted to states and counties from 1866 to 1976 to facilitate the settlement of the West. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the statute but established "R.S. 2477" roads were grandfathered as valid existing rights-of-way. The disputes between the counties, states and federal government, with environmental and land user groups battling in the background, have set the stage for some large road battles in the west over the years.
The state of Utah joined Kane County a few years ago in the suit to quiet title to twelve roads, including the Skutumpah road. The disposition of the other roads still remains to be seen but Kane County says it will continue to press its case and expects to quiet title to the remaining roads, and the rest of the Skutumpah road, within the next few months.
In 1997, Secretary Bruce Babbitt directed Interior to ignore R.S. 2477 rights which created a lot of controversy and conflict. Interior agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), have closed and restricted numerous county roads across the West claiming that R.S. 2477 rights must be determined before the agency will "respect them as valid existing rights."
For the last two years in court the Interior Department denied that Kane County had any right to the Skutumpah Road, but it separately informed the public that Kane County should maintain it. U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups recently advised U.S. attorneys that the federal government had placed Kane County in a "catch 22" and suggested that the attorneys coordinate with the county to resolve some of the roads in the county.
Since maintenance along Skutumpah road was haphazard with the dispute between the BLM and the county keeping maintenance crews at bay, the result was safety dangers along the road that warranted an expedited court hearing. When pressed, the United States finally acknowledged Kane County's ownership of the Skutumpah road. Although the full extent Kane County's rights are yet to be defined in the litigation, the county says it now has the necessary jurisdiction to properly maintain, repair and manage the Skutumpah road as it historically has done.
Kane County is in the process of securing quiet title or formal recognition of all of its roads documented as R.S. 2477 roads.