Lenado property owner at odds with Forest Service over access
December 16, 2015
Access to a private driveway is at the heart of a dispute between the owner of a Lenado residence and the U.S. Forest Service.
Eaden Shantay filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court against the Forest Service, accusing the agency of breaking a 1998 deal that allows for an easement over a driveway that cuts through about 300 feet of federal land.
The suit claims the Forest Service made the agreement with then property owner Jack Hoge, who conveyed 10 acres of property in Gunnison County to the Forest Service as part of the deal. "The Forest Service now owns these lands, has the benefit of them and manages them as part of its National Forest System," the suit says.
Shantay bought the Lenado property from Hoge in 2002 and built a residence there in 2008, the suit says. He also made improvements to the driveway. But in 2012, he learned the Forest Service hadn't documented the private road easement, prompting him to submit an application for an easement with the Forest Service, which he also asked to recognize the 1998 agreement. The Forest Service countered that an easement agreement was never reached and characterized its 1998 decision as an "offer" or "letter."
"The Forest Service got the private lands that were conveyed to the Forest Service, and those were near Marble, and the Forest Service conveyed the property near Lenado and said it would offer an easement for two little slices of Forest Land crossed by the long driveway," said Denver attorney Zeke Williams of the firm Lewis, Bess, Williams & Weese PC, which filed the suit on Shantay's behalf. "It was an oversight by the Forest Service, and it fell through the cracks."
The Forest Service holds a different position.
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"To be perfectly blunt, it's not my responsibility to find out if you have access before you purchase your property," said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, which is part of the U.S. Forest Service.
Fitzwilliams also said he's hesitant to give an easement to Shantay while there are outstanding National Forest access issues in the Lenado area, including a dispute over snowmobile parking that has been in litigation for years.
"We don't have a final disposition on that, and until that happens, I can't give an easement without figuring out where parking is going to land," he said.
Shantay's attorney suggested previous and current issues over parking and access have distorted Shantay's gripe with the Forest Service.
"I think the Forest Service is making a mistake in lumping all of the issues in the area," he said. "This was a promise they made. They got a bargain. They got private lands, so I don't understand why the Forest Service will say they have a whole basket of issues in Lenado, when this one is really separate."
In a letter dated June 30, 2014, to Carbondale consultant Robert Schultz, who had aided Shantay on the matter, Fitzwilliams said the 1998 agreement was out of date. "Public access issues have evolved since 1998, and we would not make a similar offer today without ensuring we have retained, or secured, adequate suitable land for our roadway and parking to meet the current and future needs of the public in this location," says the letter, which is an exhibit in Shantay's suit.
Shantay's suit claims the Forest Service is forcing him "to construct a new road in a new location where no road currently exists and across private lands that are not controlled by Mr. Shantay or the Forest Service."
The easement in question runs over a portion of Larkspur Mountain Road and has been used since the 1970s, the suit says.
The Lenado property is no longer Shantay's primary residence, Williams said. Shantay, who runs a yoga studio and tea room in Carbondale with his wife, referred questions to his attorney.