Counties subcommittee drafts new policy on right-of-way claims

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SNOWMASS -- A new policy on contentious right-of-way claims drafted by a Colorado Counties Inc. subcommittee could be the first step in counties claiming roads across public lands.

The Mining Law of 1866, known as Revised Statute 2477, allows governments or individuals to assert right-of-way claims on constructed highways over public lands. But there has been much disagreement on local, state and federal government levels about how the law should be interpreted.

Doug Monger, chairman of CCI's RS 2477 subcommittee and a Routt County commissioner, presented Colorado county commissioners with a draft of the subcommittee's RS 2477 proposal at a meeting in Snowmass on Wednesday.

Twelve counties helped draft the policy, which reflects the ideology behind an RS 2477 resolution the Moffat Commissioners passed several years ago.

The Moffat County resolution identified 2,000 miles of "highways" as RS 2477 rights of way. Included are foot paths and horse trails, the majority of which are in the western half of the county, including Browns Park Refuge and Dinosaur National Monument. But the commissioners have yet to formally declare an RS 2477 right of way in the county.

After Monger's presentation, Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton suggested CCI begin drafting an RS 2477 declaration at August's land policy meeting.

"The next step is for counties to identify roads and submit them to CCI," Hampton said.

Monger agreed.

"I'd be in support of throwing these against the wall to see what sticks," he said.

Monger suggested counties begin by declaring what he called "no-brainers" -- roads he thought obviously would be valid RS 2477 assertions. Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said she thought a Bureau of Land Management road in the Lookout Mountain area qualified as one of these, which the county would use as a test case.

The Colorado Legislature passed a resolution during its last session encouraging Congress to draft legislation to address RS 2477 rights of way, and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall has been working toward such a goal. CCI's draft policy states federal legislation and/or administrative policy are needed to establish a federal standard that is uniform among federal land management agencies.

That was a condition with which Raftopoulos took exception. She preferred to see the issue resolved on a state-by-state basis.

Other commissioners suggested counties begin exerting RS 2477 claims to expedite the federal legislation process.

"Hopefully, this will light a fire under their cans so they'll move on this," said Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

CCI sent a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources in 2003 that outlined their position on RS 2477. Amendments on deadlines and appeals are the only additions to the new policy, Hampton said.

The new draft policy states any deadlines established for RS 2477 claims should not place an undue burden on counties. Rep. Udall has proposed a four-year deadline for RS 2477 assertions.

The new draft policy also states an appeal process should be available.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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