The Offices of the Governor and Utah Attorney General announced on November 14 the filing of federal lawsuits to settle ownership rights on roads in Garfield and Kane Counties. The lawsuits will include some roads within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

The first lawsuit filed was on November 10, and concerned 710 Kane County road segments. The second was filed on November 14, and involved over 94 roads in Garfield County.

“Plaintiff’s public highways serve the vital function of linking communities,” states the Kane County brief.  “Due to the rugged terrain in Kane County, each of the roads claimed herein is incredibly important because there is rarely an alternate route.”

“The BLM has completely ignored local and state requests for local control of vital roads within the public lands, instead choosing to unilaterally close roads and restrict access enjoyed by Utahns for decades, contrary to the protections with FLPMA of 1976,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert.  “We will now bring the historical evidence to court, and ask that the access rights and travel needs of Utahns be upheld in the face of federal indifference.  Ownership is the only tool that allows local and state governments to have a legitimate say in the management of access to public lands.”

“We have tried for years to resolve these issues without litigation, but these two lawsuits represent the failure of the federal government to recognize roads built and used by Utahns for decades,” says Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow.  “We will continue to take action to protect the rights of Utah citizens.”

When asked how was this lawsuit different from others, Kane County Commission chair Doug Heaton said, “This lawsuit is much bigger. The intent is to put to rest ownership and jurisdictions of the roads.”

Heaton said the lawsuit will be paid out of the county’s general fund, road funds and through gas tax (B road funds), and hopefully subsidized somewhat by the State of Utah.

He stressed that the roads in question were on both public and private lands. He said it was important for people in rural communities like this who were surrounded by public lands to be able to access their lands for their livelihoods. “It’s important we represent our constituents,” said Heaton.

All three commissioners stressed that the magnitude of the complaint concerning the roads was 1500 pages. It also contains 14,500 pages of exhibits.

Additionally, there are approximately 20 other counties in the state considering filing R.S. 2477 claims on this issue within the next 30 days.

Commissioner Dirk Clayson said the only time the county truly has access is when they have quit title. “We want to permit historical use,” said Clayson.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Brooke C. Wells has been asked to grant quit title to the roads under R.S. 2477 in the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and other roads now being administered by the Department of Interior. Although R.S. 2477 was repealed with the Federal Land Policy Management Act in 1976, the act still grandfathered the rights of way on existing roads.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office and attorneys representing the counties are working together on the litigation.

“We have strong evidence that these roads were used before 1976 and some even pre-date Utah’s statehood in 1896,” said Assistant Attorney General Harry Souvall.