County gears up for battle on public road ownership
A meeting that went on Thursday was important to anyone who wants to protect rights of way in the back country of Carbon County.
Carbon County requested assistance from anyone who has knowledge of pre-1976 travel on public roads crossing federal land. That was especially true of those who were willing to testify to help maintain the public roads system in the county. The meeting was held at the county events center at the Fairgrounds.
The Carbon County Commission, together with the State of Utah, has been pursuing legal action in federal court to quiet title to the pre-1976 public roads crossing federal land in the county. Thursday's meeting served to better allow the county's legal counsel to identify potential witnesses for later interviews and testimony supporting the historical uses of these roads.
People were asked to bring any evidence, such as pictures and documents, that could be used as evidence of the historic uses of public roads on federal land.
Pre-1976 public highways are commonly referred to as RS 2477 rights-of-way. RS 2477 is contained in the July 26, 1866, Mining Law, Section 8, and states: "The right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted." RS 2477 was repealed on October 21, 1976, in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).
However, all roads accepted by public use prior to FLPMA were grandfathered as local and state roads with full local authority.
Present at the meeting were Rex Sacco, the land manager for Carbon County, Mitch Maio, a representative from the Utah State Attorney General's office, which is helping the county with road issues in the western part of the county, and Mark Burghardt from the law firm of Holland and Hart, which is assisting with roads in the eastern part of the county.
For the first part of the afternoon there was a steady stream of people coming in with statements and some with photos that showed various areas where they had traveled. Some said they could find photos of some of the contested roads being used in the years before 1976.
However the turnout was not what Sacco had hoped for.
"Overall we didn't get that good a turnout, but we will keep working at this," said Sacco on Monday morning.
One of the problems county land officials are concerned with is that they have many, many witnesses concerning the viability of roads pre-1976 in the eastern part of the county, yet for the western part those that can testify are lacking.
"We really need some people to come out and give us information on roads in the western part of the county," stated Sacco.
Stateside there are over 17,000 roads in dispute over RS 2477 issues. Many counties have just begun the process of designating the roads they want to see come under the statute. Carbon county is one of the leaders in finding those roads. It has been working on this issue for 10 years. Because the testimony has be be given by people who traversed roads before 1976, many of those who can testify are older seniors.
"For a lot of that time we have been gathering witness lists and having affidavits signed by those testifying as to what they know about the roads," explained Sacco. "Unfortunately a good number of those people that participated have passed away."
Any evidence residents may have along with testimony would help. That includes documents and particularly photos of the roads in use.
Under Title 5 the county has the use of roads in perpetuity in some cases, but not in all.
Sacco said the county would continue to work on getting more input on the roads in question, and asks that anyone who has information on roads, particularly in the western part of the county contact him at the Planning and Zoning Department at the Carbon County government complex.