Montezuma County gravels, maintains Dolores-Norwood Road

Thursday, April 26, 2018 6:17 PM
As part of its ownership claim, Montezuma County installed right of way signs along the Dolores-Norwood Road.
The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners has been maintaining the Dolores-Norwood Road even though it is within U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction. The county claims ownership of the road because historical maps show it was there before the local national forest was formed in 1905.

Montezuma County continues to improve the Dolores-Norwood Road north of Dolores and is working toward affirming county control of the route from the San Juan National Forest.

Last week, the Road and Bridge Department applied gravel to the 4.5 miles of the road from the end of the payment to the county line. Crews bladed and reshaped the crown of the road, improved curves and repaired drainage areas, and will apply a layer of magnesium chloride.

The road is paved for 11 miles north of Dolores. In 2019, the county has preliminary plans to chip-seal the remaining 4½ miles to the county line, estimated to cost about $500,000, according to Road and Bridge Superintendent Rob Englehart.

Where the road passes through federal lands, it is listed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Road 526), which the county disputes. It is jointly maintained by the Forest Service and Montezuma County under an annual Schedule A agreement. The Forest Service contributed $50,000 to the recent gravel project and supports the county’s plans to chip-seal the gravel section, Englehart said. The road is heavily relied on by the oil and gas industry, cattle operations, recreationists, hunters and property owners. Kinder Morgan pays for the road to be plowed in winter from the forest boundary at Butler Corner to a compression station at the Cottonwood intersection.

But the road has been deteriorating because maintenance has not kept pace with traffic impacts, so county Board of Commissioners has been directing the road department to repair and maintain the road beyond their agreement with the Forest Service to improve public safety. “It had not been regraveled in six or seven years, and was very washboarded out,” Englehart said. “On the paved section, we fix a lot of potholes and do patchwork.”

For the past five years, the county has been claiming ownership of the Dolores-Norwood Road. Commissioners point to historical maps that show the route was there before the national forest was formed in 1905.

The county contends that the Forest Service’s claim on the road is not valid, and has considered filing a lawsuit that proves county jurisdiction.

As an owner, Montezuma County said it would drop transportation fees charged by the national forest to cattle ranchers and commercial haulers, allow ATV travel and conduct more regular maintenance.

The county recently made some headway on another option to assert its jurisdiction for Dolores-Norwood. A 99-year lease under the Federal Roads and Trails Act is available for the county, but commissioners have balked at it because of standard language that said the lease could be revoked at any time by the Forest Service. After lobbying for two years to change the wording, commissioners recently received a draft lease agreement that dropped the revoked language.

Commissioners are considering whether to pursue a long-term lease or claim ownership in the courts. “It is definitely our road. The forest should have to take us to court to prove it is theirs, not the other way around,” said county attorney John Baxter.

Commissioner Larry Don Suckla suggested that the county consider an asphalt overlay on the Dolores-Norwood Road because it is used for local commerce.