Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for January 7, 2009
Kane County roads get snow job
Kane County drew a line in the snow. What Kane County residents expect and what they get concerning road maintenance issues and snow removal, might be far different things due to legal issues.
The gist of the conflict, is how Kane County and the BLM, have interpreted a May 2008 District Court decision made by Judge Tena Campbell. She said that the county must remove 39 county signs placed on roads in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2003.
Currently, snow removal on roads across federally-managed lands will be assessed on a road by road and case by case basis, according to Kane County. The recently-approved Public Safety Snow Removal Policy focuses on the county addressing specific situations concerning safety issues.
"There will be no maintenance on the roads they say they have jurisdiction on," explained Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw. "If they can't identify their jurisdiction, why should we maintain them at taxpayers' expense? We aren't doing road maintenance on roads they say they have jurisdiction. We are removing a public safety threat, when the federal government isn't." Habbeshaw clarified the county would do road maintenance on roads frequently travelled, or to help ranchers access their livestock.
The issue came to a head with Judge Tena Campbell's summer ruling in the long and ongoing roads struggle in the courtroom over road ownership, that went against Kane County. In the decision's conclusion, she wrote that her issues concerning sign removal and road maintenance were concerning 'closed' roads. The BLM and GSENM believe that the county's interpretation does not include its historic responsibility on 'open' roads.
"The BLM does not agree with the county's interpretation of Judge Campbell's ruling, and feels the county has the right to continue to maintain all open public roads," responded Rene Berkhoudt, GSENM and Harry Barber, Kanab Field Office manager, in a letter to the editor in the Southern Utah News.
Commissioner Habbeshaw clarified snow removal and maintenance would only be done on frequently-travelled roads. "Why don't they provide maintenance on the roads that they say they have jurisdiction? We want title to the roads."
The BLM responds that the county receives funding through UDOT to perform road maintenance on Class B roads which transverse federal public lands. In addition, federal PILT (payment in lieu of taxes), is money provided to counties for government services which include but is not limited to, those services that relate to public safety, the environment, housing, social services, transportation and government administration. This year's PILT payment to Kane County totaled over $930,000.
Since road maintenance agreements were initiated in the 70's, Kane County and other counties throughout the west, regularly maintain Class B roads (which includes snow removal). Kane County receives federal funding to perform this maintenance.
The BLM has said based on Kane County's concerns, they have offered to update road maintenance agreements, or provide at no cost, Title V rights of way to the County, if they wish to have more assurances of their continuing maintenance authority.
The BLM said it's in the public interest to focus on how the County and BLM can cooperate to resume routine maintenance of the many open roads important to the citizens of Kane County and the travelling public. Litigation concerning particular routes should not put the public at risk.
The continued legal battle over federal land and county jurisdiction will be addressed again on January 14 before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. In this legal issue, the challenging parties are Kane, Garfield and the Kane County Water Conservancy District, concerning water transportation and water provision of the Monument plan.
"The county is doing everything it can to take title to the roads," said Habbeshaw. "We need jurisdiction to operate open roads." He added the BLM might have gotten unintended consequences for their legal stance.