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Court Of Appeals Rules Against Suwa, BLM on Disputed RS-2477 Roads

Utah officials and three local county governments are pleased with a decision rendered last Thursday by the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in an ongoing dispute involving RS-2477 road rights of way.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court case was between Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the one hand and three counties - Kane, Garfield and San Juan - on the other.

The case involved 16 road rights of way the counties assert belonged to the local governments under the federal RS-2477 statute, indicated the Utah Attorney General's Office.

In the decision, a panel of three federal adjudicators unanimously rejected the BLM's administrative determinations that a judge of the Utah district court affirmed in disallowing the roads.

The appellate court ruling stated, however, that the BLM lacked authority to conduct the administrative determinations, pointed out the attorney general's office.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court rejected numerous standards employed by the BLM determinations, including a requirement that the roads be established by mechanical construction.

The appealate judges also rejected the BLM's contention that a 1910 coal withdrawal, over which some of the roads run, disqualified the area for establishment of RS-2477 roads, noted the attorney general's office.

Instead, the U.S. 10 Circuit Court of Appeals upeld the arguments by the counties that the correct law to apply in determining whether the roads are valid under RS-2477 is Utah law, continued the attorney general's office.

The Utah law cited in connection with the case specifies that continuous use for 10 years prior to 1976 is sufficient to establish an RS-2477 right of way on similar roads at locations across the state.

The decision has been remanded to the district court for complete review under the standards declared in the U.S. 10th Circuit 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," concluded Finlayson, who represented Kane and Garfield counties in the case.





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