Road issue could set precedent

County haggles with landowner over ownership of road


In the Browns Park area, landowners and Moffat County Commissioners are fighting over "a road that leads to nowhere."

At issue is a road .47 miles in length that crosses James and Katherine Bassett's land. Commissioners call the road County Road 60 A. The Bassetts call it their private property.

That short stretch of road is important enough to the county that the commissioners retained a Gunnison County attorney to explore the county's historical right to the road.

But the Bassetts have been fighting about the road with the commissioners since at least 2001 and Katherine Bassett said she intends to bring the issue to a head at a commissioner meeting on March 22.

The road became an issue when the Bassetts denied road access to a Wisconsin landowner who used the road to drive to his property. That landowner complained to the commissioners, who retained R. A. Santarelli to take on the case. In 2002, the commissioners paid Santarelli $1,759. In 2003, they paid him $59, and they have paid him nothing so far in 2004.

For the commissioners, it's an issue that goes beyond a fight between neighbors. It is an issue of county road rights.

"This is more than just an issue between neighbors, this is a county road issue and my feeling is that we probably should pursue this and move forward," Commissioner Les Hampton is recorded as saying in the Oct. 13 minutes.

The road is not deeded to the county, but Santarelli has found it labeled on county maps throughout the years. He has cited a Colorado law that states that after a road has been open for public use for 20 years, it becomes a county road.

"Lots of roads in the county aren't deeded, but just because a road isn't deeded doesn't mean the road doesn't belong to the county," Commissioner Darryl Steele said. "If we give up disputed roads, it may mean we don't have that many county roads."

Commissioner Marianna Rafto-poulos removed herself from the decision because her husband leased land from the property's previous owner, and she wanted to avoid a conflict of interests, she said.

Santarelli does not consider himself an expert on such matters, but he said he has "run into this kind of situation often" in his 32-year career.

"The principle is important," Santarelli said. "That half-mile of road, if the commissioners are willing to allow a road with this kind of history fall out of the public realm, it's going to hurt them. Then anybody could shut down any number of roads that are more important."

Kathy Bassett called it "the road to nowhere" in a letter she sent to the Daily Press.

Bassett insists that the road doesn't serve the general public, but rather only serves "one or two people." In lieu of legal representation, she and her husband are corresponding with Santarelli through John Watt, Browns Park Land Use Board chairman.

Watt said the Bassetts have paid real estate taxes on the road, have kept it gated and marked for no trespassing, and all members of the Browns Park community consider it a private road.

Watt disputes the map book Santarelli found the road in, saying it is not a matter of public record.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at

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