County, forest at odds over OHVs

Thursday, July 23, 2015 8:28 PM
Montezuma County has installed a dozen of these signs to remind drivers of the new ordinance allowing off-highway vehicles on County Road 31, also called the Dolores-Norwood Road.

A U.S. Forest Service ranger told Montezuma County commissioners this week that local officials continue to overstep their authority in regard to the Dolores-Norwood Road.

District Ranger Derek Padilla said jurisdictional confusion over the roadway resurfaced over the July Fourth weekend after complaints were lodged about ATV use.

“The confusion led to in-fighting among the community itself,” Padilla told commissioners on Monday, July 20.

Earlier this year, Montezuma County officials installed a dozen “Share the Road” signs accommodating off-highway vehicle use on county roads, including the Dolores-Norwood Road.

To clarify any confusion, Montezuma County attorney John Baxter told commissioners on Monday that people were allowed to operate off-highway vehicles on the roadway.

“Not according to our travel management rules,” Padilla interrupted.

“Your travel management rule is incorrect,” Baxter replied.

Baxter continued, stating that federal officials had yet to provide any evidence that the roadway had ever been transferred to the Forest Service.

Padilla countered, stating the two parties needed to enter into a formal process to settle the jurisdictional question.

“On the books, it’s the jurisdiction of the Forest Service,” said Padilla. “That’s the part we need to fix.”

Baxter contended that the issue could be informally resolved if federal officials would simply agree to sign over jurisdiction.

“We say it’s ours,” Baxter told Padilla. “If you think it’s yours, then maybe you should take us to court.”

Padilla said the Forest Service was unlikely to take any action, informing commissioners that it was there responsibility to provide evidence in a courtroom to prove their asserted jurisdiction.

The jurisdictional issue over the corridor initially surfaced in 2013. The 55-mile, mostly graveled, network of roads passes through portions of Montezuma, Dolores, and San Miguel counties and the San Juan National and Uncompahgre national forests.

Upset about commercial travel fees and regulation by the U.S. Forest Service, Montezuma County officials have claimed historic-use rights utilizing Revised Statute 2477.