County road claims make state's radar

Lawmakers ask Congress to resolve RS 2477 issues before they get out of hand

The Colorado Senate has passed a resolution recommending Congress adopt legislation to resolve issues surrounding a Civil War era right-of-way law.

Introduced by Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, the resolution asks Congress to "provide more direction" on Revised Statute 2477, commonly called the Mining Act, which grants right-of-way on constructed highways over public lands.

"It doesn't come down for or against anyone," Andrews said. "But the stakeholders are ill served by the ambiguity of the law."

Andrews introduced the bill in response to conflicts between RS 2477 claims and private property rights and legal wrangling over the language of the law.

The resolution specifically asks Congress to consider the input of the numerous competing values, including wilderness preservation and access to natural resources, at issue in the RS 2477 debate, to clarify a county's obligation to maintain right-of-ways, and to support the claims of counties after thorough public input.

The resolution passed 34-1 on Wednesday morning. Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Taylor said he voted against the resolution based on feedback he received from county commissioners within his district.

Those commissioners included Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who said she is disappointed the resolution passed because she had hoped for the debate to be worked out through a grassroots effort on the state level rather than by the federal government.

Moffat County became a central player in the RS 2477 debate when the county commissioners adopted a resolution that identified more than 2,000 miles of right-of-way routes on federal land within county borders, including routes within Dinosaur National Monument and Brown's Park. Some of these routes included livestock trails, horse paths and logging roads.

Much of the debate has focused on the definition of a constructed highway. Environmentalists object that many of the routes claimed by Moffat County were not constructed. A recent decision by a Utah judge denied three Utah counties' RS 2477 claims within Escalante National Park and near the Canyonlands, saying the dirt paths they claimed as roads didn't fit the definition of a constructed highway.

The Utah Attorney General has promised to appeal the decision in the 10th Circuit Court. There, a judge will have to decide if the Utah counties were justified in the interpretation of RS 2477. It's a decision that could set a precedent for Colorado RS 2477 claims.

But Andrews said he wants to see Congress make those decisions rather than a judge.

"It's better for everyone if Congress makes clear laws, instead of the courts interpreting vague laws. There's a better chance of clarity for the people," Andrews said.

The effect of the resolution at this point is unclear. Reed Morris of the Colorado Wilderness Network said he couldn't speculate what Congress might do with the resolution, but he believed it could have good benefits for public lands.

Taylor said he didn't think the resolution would have much influence, and Andrews acknowledged that current conflicts would not be cleared up instantly.

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

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