County changes legal course in road fight

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The Moffat County commissioners won't use a federal right-of-way law in their legal battle over ownership of a short rural road in the western part of the county.

The county's attorney, R. A. Santarelli of Almont, is updating the county's lawsuit to remove Revised Statute 2477 from the county's claim against James and Katherine Bassett of Greystone.

RS 2477 is a federal law passed in 1866 to facilitate settlement of the West. It grants public access to constructed highways across public lands. Santarelli originally argued that there must have been some road or access that passed through the land that would become the Bassett's property before it was patented.

Moffat County has an RS 2477 policy that claims 2,000 miles of routes as county rights of way. But the policy stipulates that the county won't assert RS 2477 rights on private land.

"We felt we should be following county policy. County policy says we aren't going to push RS 2477 claims on private property," Commissioner Darryl Steele said during a meeting Tuesday.

Santarelli mailed the change to the courts Monday.

The commissioners are suing the Bassetts for ownership of a .47 mile stretch of road that crosses the Bassetts' land. The Bassetts say it is their private property, but the commissioners call it County Road 60A.

Steele renewed offers to settle the case with the Bassetts out of court. To settle, the county would require the Bassetts to provide a written easement to landowners who use the road to access their lands. After that, the county would be willing to initiate procedures to vacate the road, Steele said.

A settlement would have to be acceptable to all parties, he said.

He said he last offered to settle the case in such a manner about one year ago. The Bassetts refused, he said.

The Bassetts have filed a response to the county's suit, but they named no formal legal representation in their reply.

The Bassetts admitted they have made regular efforts to block public access to the contested road.

They assert that the property has never been fenced and that Merlin Burton, who owns land accessible by the road, has access to his property other than the road. They also asserted that a person to whom Burton leases the land has permission to cross their land.

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