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Garfield County wants to get roads in order

John Colson
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is concerned that it does not have adequate documentation for its ownership of thousands of miles of roads stretching into every nook and cranny of the county’s roughly 1.9 million acres.

To correct that oversight, the commissioners informally have authorized County Attorney Frank Hutfless to hire someone to conduct research into the records of Garfield County, the State of Colorado and the federal government to determine the precise ownership status of roads, easements, rights of way and whatever other categories of ownership that might be relevant to who owns what in terms of the roads.

The new position, to be overseen by Hutfless, probably would pay “anywhere from about $60,000 to $80,000,” predicted John Martin, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

“I’ve been working on it for at least five years now,” said Martin, referring to what is known as the RS2477 debate.

In its Mining Law of 1866, the U.S. Congress enacted Revised Statute 2477 (now commonly called RS2477) granting counties and states various rights of way across federally owned lands as a way of encouraging the settlement of the West.

In 1976, Congress repealed RS2477 and in its place erected the Federal Land Policy and Management Act but allowed that any valid RS2477 claims already existing at that time would remain valid.

In recent years, however, the issue has become the subject of bitter online debates and diatribes, as well as sparking partisan fact-finding efforts from factions who either wanted the roads to be in federal hands, or who were determined to impose more local controls, if not privatization, on as many roads as possible.

The issue came sharply into focus in Garfield County, Martin said, when federal land managers recently went to work on various travel-management planning documents aimed at creating an inventory of road ownership, in preparation for closing some roads to public vehicular access.

Garfield County has objected in some cases, maintaining that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service were trying to lay claim to roads that Martin says actually belong to Garfield County.

“You’ve got to show ownership” in disputes such as this, said Martin, noting that while federal and state legislation going back to 1866 has given the county control over most roads within its jurisdiction, the records are not always clear.

So the county is getting set to fill a position that Martin said will be “more or less like a ‘land man,’ to do the research.” A “land man,” in oil and gas industry parlance, also conducts research into public records but mainly in order to determine the current ownership and availability of mineral rights for possible oil and gas extraction.

“This should have been done a hundred years ago, but it wasn’t,” Martin said, explaining that travel-management plans listed at least 14 roads as federally owned when Garfield County believed the roads existed before the creation of the BLM and the USFS.

“All those road existed,” Martin said. “We just have to show they existed. The whole program would have eliminated going to court (with federal agencies).”

He estimated that the effort “could take five or six years” and involve collaboration with other local officials, such as the clerk and recorder’s office, the county surveyor, the county assessor and others, as well as with federal land-management officials.

Martin said the program is due for finalization by formal resolution soon — “I would say, maybe, two weeks.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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