CCI doesn't join county's opposition to bill

Despite the hopes of the Moffat County commissioners, Colorado Counties Inc. did not issue a resolution opposing a road bill by Rep. Mark Udall.

Commissioners passed a resolution last week saying they oppose the bill, which would set up federal regulations for Revised Statute 2477 right-of-way claims.

R.S. 2477 is a Civil War-era law that governments can use to claim rights-of-way on public lands. The law has been used to call livestock trails and footpaths constructed roads.

Moffat County has used R.S. 2477 to claim 2,000 miles of rights-of-way on public lands, including Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Dinosaur National Monument and Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas.

Udall's bill would set up stricter requirements for how counties make road claims and would make the claiming process uniform throughout the country. Currently, states and counties have different standards for what constitutes a road under R.S. 2477.

Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, brought an R.S. 2477 bill before the House in the previous legislative session, but it has never gone to the floor for a vote.

Commissioners hoped CCI would oppose the Udall bill at the lobbying group's meeting last weekend in Denver, but CCI continued to take an ambiguous stance on the legislation.

Gini Pingenot, policy and research coordinator for CCI, said the group didn't make a formal decision about the Udall bill but encourages counties to issue statements about the bill.

Last year, CCI issued a general position statement about R.S. 2477. The statement called for federal legislation to address how R.S. 2477 claims are made.

The statement said that a federal R.S. 2477 rule shouldn't have a surveying requirement and that claiming a road in a national monument or wilderness study area should be more difficult than in other areas. Current R.S. 2477 policies do not require a survey.

Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for Udall, said the bill was drafted after extensive consultation with CCI and resembles CCI's position.

But the Moffat County commissioners reject that notion, saying the Udall bill is inconsistent with CCI's policies and Moffat County's policies.

In the resolution passed last week, the commissioners said Udall's bill is inconsistent for a variety of reasons, including that it requires a survey to prove that a road exists.

The commissioners' resolution calls the surveying requirement a "burdensome obligation."

Moffat County Natural Res--ources Director Jeff Comstock said surveying the county's 2,000 miles of R.S. 2477 claims would be "outrageously expensive."

He said identifying roads on old government maps and using aerial photographs would suffice.

Past Moffat County commissioners have said R.S. 2477 should be handled at the state level, not the federal level.

Comstock said he encourages federal legislation to clarify the R.S. 2477 claim process, but he said any federal legislation should be the result of working closely with affected counties.

Pacheco said Rep. Udall welcomes input on the bill from counties.

Comstock said the county's road claims are important because they "preserve public access to public lands." That access includes recreation, energy development and agriculture.

But environmentalists say R.S. 2477 allows governments to define and claim roads indiscriminately.

Reed Morris, a wilderness advocate with the Colorado Wilderness Network, said by claiming cow paths, Moffat County has used the law to claim more than just legitimate roads.

Morris said R.S. 2477 doesn't draw lines between cow paths and paved roads, so there isn't a mechanism to stop governments from paving paths through sensitive areas.

R.S. 2477 also makes it harder to give some areas wilderness designations because one of the characteristics of wilderness is roadlessness.

Morris said he likes some aspects of the Udall bill, particularly that it calls for a federal solution to R.S. 2477.

"It's not just a Moffat County issue," Morris said. "It is an issue of Western lands."

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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