Revised Statute 2477: How the County is Challenging the National Forest on “Ownership” of Federal Roads

I believe that citizen oversight is essential to the future of our county and before us is a large issue right now regarding the county’s assertion of rights-of-way in the Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest. This is briefly referred to as Revised Statute or RS2477 and it references an 1866 mining law about roads, route, trails on public lands. Both the July issues of the Free Press (on stands now) and the Cortez Journal have articles about this issue.

Validating these assertions is a federal court action and potentially can lead to costly litigation as has happened in other places including San Juan County, Utah. The RS2477 resolution passed by the Commissioners is their way to gain control over designated uses on trails that can open all trails to motorized use. Also this action is an action of the county towards owning the Dolores Norwood Road. As I stated in a public comment during the June 18th meeting, “Wresting land from the federal government is no easy task and will be a costly and long process.” I urge you to be informed about this topic. I  believe there were many aspects of this action that were improper. There was no transparency about an issue that will affect all citizens of the county. It was in the form of a resolution that officially does not require public input in the same way that a land issue might be the cause of a public hearing. This resolution was only made public with a small window for comment after Ellen Foster and I urged the Commissioners to put off their vote until the afternoon so there would be time to read the resolution, look at the map of the area covered, and prepare remarks. We did this over the noon hour. It was an egregious error that the Commissioners did not consult with the Commissioners in either Dolores or San Miguel Counties about the RS2477 assertion naming their counties. This lack of outreach and discussion bothers me. In addition, there is an administrative mechanism through the Forest Service by which a county can gain a lease for the right-of-way of the Dolores Norwood Road so that it can be maintained to county safety standards and at the county’s expense. Our Commissioners opted out of that possibility because the agreement had a clause whereby the lease can be revoked. These sorts of agreements are in place throughout national forests without revocation actions. Simply put, RS2477 has the potential to cost the county lots of money; it was done when we face a budget shortfall. It was an unwise decision.

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